The U.S. is not technically considered a socialist state, but rather a mixed-market corporate capitalism. The socialism persists in an adequate amount of regulation and public policy that both costs and benefits the general public. The social ownership of certain types of production consists of the often-negative externalities and public policy that most citizens could share benefit.
When economic self-interest groups like the American Enterprise Institute or Heartland Institute advocate free market policies, don’t let them fool you- they fought every attempt to incorporate a carbon tax, the most free market-esque policy to address polluting energy companies. They are really trying to sell capitalism with an understood degree of socialism, i.e., you pay a lower price and the general public will pay the rest. The Forest Service loses money on logging fees, because they build the roads and infrastructure for the private timber companies. So as I watch 31 million acres of historic hardwoods in the Southeast being slowly cut down to make room for pine, I’ll have the comfort of knowing my tax dollars funded deforestation elsewhere. The New York state government pays over a million dollars a year to stock pheasants for hunting, costing about $10 per adult bird. It’s confusing that the hunters would not fund the restocking themselves, as only 3% of New Yorkers actually hunt, while 23% watch wildlife. Whether or not this policy is effective is fairly trivial at one million dollars, but it does prove how everyone benefits or suffers from socialistic policies.
Just like Adam Smith’s “Invisible hand” of the market, government investments offer an “invisible helping hand” to citizens and businesses alike. Electrification is a great example. In the Great Depression and in present day, and every time in between, both renewable and fossil power plants require large amounts of funding and loans from the government. Projects must enter the “valley of death,” which is the point where banks and private investors cannot risk funding, but the project should not cancel due to the benefits coming down the road. Although clean energy companies are fortunate enough to receive federal subsidies, they are much less reliant on the money in comparison. In 2011, subsidies for renewables totaled only $88 billion around the world, meaning fossil fuels received six times more. The dirty fuels also got a bigger increase in subsidies in 2011: 30%, compared to the 24% for renewables. Regardless, the “social” funding of electric plants provides the basis for progress in energy development, and more people should recognize that.
Even under the not-so-coal-friendly Obama Administration, taxpayer-owned coal on public land is leased at just over one dollar per ton, which is literally cheaper than dirt. The premise for doing so comes from the assumption that it will provide electricity to citizens, yet it is instead shipped to China by Peabody for over $100 per ton. Private companies make enormous profits while everyone else must suffer the environmental damage and climate effects. For the coal that actually does make it to domestic power plants, Republicans call for greater tax breaks for the electricity generation. For a country that incorrectly touts free market energy policy, we actively engage in planetary socialism- we enjoy the benefits of energy usage while the rest of the world as a whole foots the bill.
I cannot watch five minutes of television without seeing a natural gas commercial talking about the numerous job benefits, yet they hardly ever talk about the cost. The New Yorkers Against Fracking group calls for a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) arguing that fracking in the state kills more people than it will actually employ. Thus, while some enjoy the financial benefits of selling gas, others pay with their life. The article also mentions the Department of Environmental Conservation neglects regulatory measures, despite being paid to do so with taxes. Oil producers also benefit heavily form socialistic structure.
Petroleum consumers do not pay for the cautiously conservative estimate of 15 cents per gallon to protect oil supplies in the Persian Gulf. In Blood and Oil, Michael T. Klare discusses how taxpayers’ money and representatives’ time is spent forming agencies like the U.S. Central Command for oil in the Persian Gulf region: “Keeping the [Strait of Hormuz] open and defeating any and all threats to the steady production of Persian Gulf oil is the overriding responsibility of Centcom forces,” (Location 198 of 6985). The same is true for African Command protecting African oil. The carbon cost is left unaddressed as well. One study reported that the retail price of gasoline should be around $15 per gallon. The notion that this price is more expensive is inherently stupid- we, as a country, already pay those costs. If that was the market price of gasoline, cars would be more efficient, and the general public would be angrier about financing two unnecessary wars.
Although actual free market policy, not just a oversimplified, bastardized version, could become beneficial to energy policy, the socialist-like actions towards energy and environmental policy conquer those of the free market. A Houston-based oil exploration company recently was forced to sell its leases in the Upper Hoback Basin to publicly-donated Trust for Public Lands. Once the trust completes its funding, the Hoback will become permanently free from drilling and instead open to tourism from the people.
I would hope that critics of socialism either admit to the hypocrisy of energy companies benefitting from social contributions, or at least buy into social technologies that benefit the social good. To put to rest any criticism of too-high corporate taxes or welfare costs, let it be known: the government spends $59 billion on social welfare costs and $92 billion on corporate welfare. Socialist management temporarily saved a steel giant and is still helping a large airline company. Countries with lower GDP than ours have developed advanced transportation technology, and we have little excuse not to. Instead of large corporate institutions working with/influencing the state, allow a society of innovators and DIY-ers to shape the path of this country. Patent-hungry pharmaceutical companies do not need to fund all of scientific research, a society can instead crowd-fund it. Lastly, it is good to remember that caring about society does not mean somebody is socialist.