Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Power play

Today's Wall Street Journal brought on its front page a surprisingly restrained account of electricity deregulation in Texas, and how it is allowing companies to gouge deadbeat customers and offer discounts to people with good credit. This (and the graph showing rising stock values) is the bait for the hook of deregulation; this is how it is supposed to improve the lives of honest billpaying people like us, at least until an "error" gets our service promptly disconnected, leading to our desperate overpayment for services until the "error" is corrected and an endless struggle wiith bureaucracy to then get our money back. One of the great lies about deregulation is that it removes government bureaucracy and makes things inherently better -- but have you ever thought that your medical bills were easy to follow and understand? Do you look forward to your electicity bill being as straightforward?

Deregulation permits TXU, the Texas electric utiliity, to "market aggressively." This maybe stupid of me, but isn't electricity one of those services that really sells itself? Does anyone who's not Amish need to be convinced of the benefits of using electricity?

Of course, the article is not refering to that kind of marketing. It is referring to marketing itself against other electricity companies as they rival to squeeze the most profits out of unsuspecting Texans, who are alrady getting shafted by their legislature passing the most regressive tax package in America. Electric companies are now free to court customers who pay their bills reliably and free to ignore those who they deem not so reliable for whatever reasons they might have. (This is much like their friends in the insurance business, who have gained greater latitude in recent years to refuse to cover people who they dub as risks, protecting their profits and passing along the catastrophic care costs to people like you and me, which incidently, are wildly inflated because of the total breakdown of preventive care or medical intervention at a much earlier point.)

The article's key paragraph is in the first column of the jump: "Under regulation, old-fashioned utilities enjoyed regional monopolies, charging rates based on their costs and pre-set profit margins. In exchange, electric companies had to offer service to all paying customers in their areas. Electricity was seen as close to an entitlement, like water service." In the richest country in the world, the self-appointed beacon of freedom and enlightened governance, shouldn't electricity and water be entitlements? Shouldn't the costs of these basic benchmarks of a high standard of living be bourne socially? Deregulation is always about removing social safety nets and permitting companies to replace social responsibility with profit. Anything else that is said about it is propaganda to mask this fundamental fact.

This morning, BBC radio reported efforts to privatize water service in developing nations, under the ruse that such privatization would bring in more efficiency. The idea is that companies with the know-how to implement better water distribution would only be willing to do it for maximum profit. The idea was that this outsourcing of the basic governmental guarantees would speed up these countries' development, as if this kind of governmental laziness doesn't assure that the country will be forever backward and imperialized, a place for offshore companies to come and loot without fear or reprisal from their lackeys in the statehouse.

What kind of society would prefer to make a profit then see to it that no children go without clean water? The kind of society that the Republicans wish to usher in. This is the essence of their plan to destroy social security: to undermine the notion that society shares burdens to make it stronger and that it doesn't subject its weakest members to the anxieties of basic survival. Republicans want the rich to be able to keep more of their social security money and pass it on in their own families as an inheritance. In their greed, they can't stand the idea that money they pay in might be distributed to someone else to make sure that someone else doesn't live in a refrigerator box. They despise the idea of distributing the costs of social welfare across the spectrum of society and would prefer to see the enfeebled punished for their weakness, while those born entitled can use that entitlement as leverage to further enrich themselves. They like to recast the weak and infirm as deadbeats who deserve to suffer, that it's indeed their moral duty to suffer.

This segregation, wherein the rich are afforded the dignity of Amrican life and the poor are treated like so much refuse, seems to even bother the Journal (or this particular writer, anyway), which contrasts the fate of Graham Beechum III, a wealthy tech-company president, and Eddie Williams, a retiree. When Beechum's power was mistakenly turned off, his case was deemed "sensitive" and an executive council intervened immediately to restore his power and assuage him with giveaways. But when Eddie Williams couldn't pay because he had to use the money to pay for his parent's nursing home, he was told to get help from his children. Boy, thank God TXU showed that deadbeat.


  1. That was a very good post, and one that I agree with. I don't think the Republicans realize that by making sure the very bottom rung of society doesn't have to eat out of trash cans, they are actually protecting their own well-being, because when people are truly starving they won't go down quietly, police state or not. Slomin's Shield signs will get trampled right quick. Think of the bonus riots of 1932.

  2. I read the dame article and got very angry as well. I thought the salient point however was that the company lost 4 billion dollars in speculation in britian but was being praised for reducing 90 million dollars in costs from so called deadbeat patrons.

    This is just what I dont understand about free markets lover's the waste of 4 billion was an afterthought some poor person who needs elecrticty to breathe .. gets fucked.