Universal Electric

Yesterday I got my electric bill, which was pleasantly — and unexpectedly — low.  Complaint-worthy electric bills are nothing unusual; utilities always seem to cost rather more than we’d like to pay.

I am lucky enough to have my electricity provided by what I am pretty sure (based on its name, some quick internet research, and this ridiculously low bill) is a private — albeit regulated — company.  In much of America, however, this is not an option: electricity is provided by the city government and the city government alone.  There is no other choice.

It wasn’t always like this. In “the early days of electric power, there were no monopolies, and users often owned the wires and bought power from competing power plants.”  However, the GOP — which had come to almost exclusive power in the wake of the Civil War — embarked on a plan of utilities socialism which resulted in providing electricity for everyone through government monopoly.  Was this such a good idea?  Clearly not:

…electric power might be cheaper if it were produced by competing free-market companies instead of government-granted monopolies. Of course this would lead to the inherent problems of unrestricted capitalism. For instance, if there had been competing electric companies in New Orleans during Katrina, it would have caused terrible inequalities. Not everyone’s power would have gone off and stayed off for months (in fact no one’s power would have stayed off for months, because they would have switched companies). The same would be true in wartime or other emergency; the inefficient duplications of capitalism would mean that not all power would be knocked out in a city at the same time.

Moreover, private provision of electricity would also do away with the calls for rationing we now hear: who hasn’t been told to be careful with their electricity because it’s killing the planet?  Or, to take another utility frequently supplied by government, to use less water because we’re going to run out?  Competing companies would be forced to better manage their resources in order to stay in business.  And now that going green is popular, it isn’t difficult to imagine the speed with which “environmentally unfriendly” firms would be driven out of business, especially in large cities with eco-conscious populations.

So next time you ponder the evils which universal healthcare will undoubtedly bring, keep in mind that most of us already have universal electric.

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