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Will Texas choose to be pro-business or pro-market?

Summary:
Tesla recent announced plans to move its corporate headquarters from California to Texas.  But there are some ironies associated with this action: And despite the state’s business-friendly reputation, Tesla can’t sell vehicles directly to customers there because of a law that protects car dealerships, which Tesla does not use. I would challenge the reporter’s use of the term ‘despite’.  Indeed, in a sense the Texas ban on direct sales from auto manufacturers is because they are pro-business, specifically, pro-car dealership business. Another irony is that Tesla produces a type of battery that can be combined with renewable energy sources, which is not exactly the most popular type of energy in Texas: In February, a rare winter storm caused the Texas electric grid

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Tesla recent announced plans to move its corporate headquarters from California to Texas.  But there are some ironies associated with this action:

And despite the state’s business-friendly reputation, Tesla can’t sell vehicles directly to customers there because of a law that protects car dealerships, which Tesla does not use.

I would challenge the reporter’s use of the term ‘despite’.  Indeed, in a sense the Texas ban on direct sales from auto manufacturers is because they are pro-business, specifically, pro-car dealership business.

Another irony is that Tesla produces a type of battery that can be combined with renewable energy sources, which is not exactly the most popular type of energy in Texas:

In February, a rare winter storm caused the Texas electric grid to collapse, leaving millions of people without electricity and heat for days. Soon after, the state’s leaders sought — falsely, according to many energy experts — to blame the blackout on renewable energy.

“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Fox News of the blackout. “It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the wintertimes and cool our homes in the summertimes.”

Musk, a Texas resident since last year, seemed to offer a very different take Thursday, suggesting that renewable energy could, in fact, protect people from power outages.

“I was actually in Austin for that snowstorm, in a house with no electricity, no lights, no power, no heating, no internet,” he said. “This went on for several days. However, if we had the solar plus Powerwall, we would have had lights and electricity.”

I am in favor of shifting the economy toward more use of non-carbon sources of energy, such as nuclear, hydro, wind and solar.  For that reason, I am pleased with Tesla’s move, as I suspect it might begin to change the impact of the energy industry on Texas politics.  Here’s The Economist:

Even without subsidies, wind and solar power are often the cheapest new source available, so sure to grow. They are also popular, having created a lot of jobs, especially in Republican states. Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are the country’s top wind-energy producers. Texas employs almost as many people in wind, solar and electricity storage as the entire mining industry that Mr Trump used to harp on.

A carbon tax would be much better than clean energy subsidies, but apparently a carbon tax is politically impossible at the moment.

In an ideal world, different energy sources could compete on a level playing field, perhaps after Pigovian taxes are implemented.  But politics will almost inevitably intrude; as it will be argued that non-monetary considerations (such as power outages) are also important.  Thus while many experts blamed Texas’s power outages last winter on problems in the natural gas industry, fossil fuel supporters blamed wind energy:

[Texas governor] Greg Abbott, blamed a catastrophic grid failure in February on intermittent wind power—despite official findings that poorly maintained gas power stations were mostly to blame—and ordered the state regulator to penalise the renewables industry. . . .

The Koch-linked Texas Public Policy Foundation made the running in blaming wind for the state’s recent blackout. Like the pro-gun lobby, another skilful circumventer of public opinion, the fossil-fuels camp has also propagated a powerful conservative mythology. In contrast to cosseted renewables, it claims to be a preserve of wildcatting free spirits, which is half true, and unsubsidised, which is not.

The renewables industry’s ability to fight back has until recently been limited. It was for years too small to lobby effectively and its diverse technologies made it slow to get organised. It was therefore chiefly represented in the battle for influence by environmentalists. This was a good way to woo Democrats. But it helped its enemies on the right misrepresent the industry—now the source of around 20% of America’s electricity and over 400,000 jobs—as a left-wing boondoggle.

It will be interesting to watch how this debate plays out in the next few decades.  Major automakers have announced plans to dramatically ramp up the production of electric cars.  These cars are becoming much more popular in the area where I live (Orange County.)  Just a few days ago, Ford announced plans for a massive new electric car and battery plant in Tennessee. Will Ford be able to convince conservative Texans to buy electric F-150 pickups?  The next decade will be very interesting.

Will Texas choose to be pro-business or pro-market?

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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