Laissez-Faire Socialism, Part One

Let me begin with a simple business proposition. Maybe you think us lefties don’t know anything about business. Don’t look any further, if you can take seeing your straw men burned.

Below is the next “million dollar” idea. It is the next major technological development that will be as significant in its social and cultural impact as the automobile, the television or the personal computer. I’m giving it away, to anyone out there with the capital to bring it to market.

I call it individual energy independence, and a marketable system can be made with existing off-the-shelf technology. All you have to do is find suitable solar panels, an inconspicuous wind turbine and a hydrogen fuel cell stack. Not only is the technology available, it has actually been around awhile.

The purpose of the fuel cell stack isn’t really power generation. It is power storage. A storage system is necessary for any residential system. When you have lots of sunshine, and/or lots of wind, you route your surplus power into your storage system, and draw on it when the sun goes down and/or the wind stops blowing. Unfortunately, the traditional power storage method was the “wet cell” battery, like the one under the hood of your car. Such a battery amounts to a “toxic waste dump in a box”.

The hydrogen fuel cell offers a clean and low maintenance storage system. You simply use your surplus power to separate hydrogen and oxygen in plain water. When the sun goes down and the wind dies, you recombine your hydrogen and oxygen using your fuel cell, recovering the power used to separate them. It’s just like a battery. A working version of a system very similar to this has been in operation at Humbolt State University since 1993. That’s continuous, maintenance-free operation – and it’s just a prototype.

You will need an electrical engineer, if you aren’t one yourself, to design the arrangement of the components in order to deliver a steady current to your house. That’s actually easy. Any pedestrian engineer should be able to design a system – for breakfast. Finally, you will want to get a two-way meter box, and take advantage of Federal laws that require the power company to purchase any surplus power you aren’t storing in your fuel cell stack. [How did we get that one past the conservatives? Wait, you won't believe it. Enron -- so they could trade electricity as a commodity.]

You’re not done yet. You have to sell them, which means you have to have some inventory – or at least you have to have a supplier who can deliver to you in a hurry. Any number of electronics manufacturers can do this for you on a contract basis. As for sales, go down to your local “replacement window” storefront, hire some of their salesmen and sell the system “in home”, the way security systems are sold.

If this sounds like good old-fashioned American business, it is. It’s also the most effective thing anyone can do to de-stabilize the corporate power structure. Keep reading.

These systems will sell.

Anybody who buys one will realize an instant savings in his monthly balance of payments. After all, he isn’t paying a power bill, anymore. The bigger the house he’s got, the more it costs him to heat and cool it, the more he saves. Since he has a bigger house, he probably also has a bigger bank account, and a better credit rating. In other words, he can afford one. But it won’t really cost him anything. You see, he can finance it with a home improvement loan, and amortize it over ten years or more, and the deduct the interest payments on his income tax return. Meanwhile, it will add value to his house, which means he can recapture the cost of the equipment when he sells or refinances. It’s a good deal, all the way around. If you want to keep the cost down, sell it to him at a low margin, do in-house financing and make your money on the backside with the interest.

After you’ve set up and sold a few, you’ll be ready for the next step.

Build a “green” subdivision. Put the system in every house in the subdivision, set up a small power grid, and turn your homeowners association into the world’s first residential renewable energy cooperative. While you’re at it, install a “digester”, and generate methane gas from everybody’s sewage.

Make them look like any other “California style” ranch house, and people will buy them. It seems nobody much likes the power company. After you’ve built one such subdivision, build another one. When the idea catches on with other developers, sell them the equipment wholesale.

The first systems will be expensive. The first televisions cost $2,000.00 – in 1950, when $2,000.00 was a lot of money. And they were crummy sets, too. People bought them anyway. The more they bought the cheaper they got, and the better they got. That’s how it is with any new technology. What kind of PC could you buy in 1985, at a cost of $2,000.00? Nothing like the one’s that sell for $600.00 today. Trust me, the more of these you make, the more design improvements you will make, the more efficient your production will become, the cheaper and better the systems will get. Which will help you sell more of them. It won’t be long before everybody has one. Hell, even slumlords will be putting them in after a while. .

This start-up business will make you a fortune. You could become the Henry Ford of renewable energy.

While you’re at it, you’ll be changing the world – just like Henry Ford. He created a whole culture that didn’t exist before. So will you. With this simple technological improvement, you will create a culture of freedom, equality, democracy and environmental sustainability.

The New Culture Of Renewable Energy

The new culture you will create with your residential power generation system I call “Laissez-Faire Socialism”. If that sounds like a contradiction to you, that is only because the prevailing model of social and economic theory make “socialism” and “free enterprise” appear to be contradictory. Both the left and the right seem to accept this view, because our entire modern industrial society is based on this prevailing model of economic theory. In fact, the fundamental assumptions about human nature are contained in the theoretical model of the bargaining process based on a mythological “first human” known as “economic man”. As it turns out, “economic man” is a distortion – creating a distorted view of society that appears to be “natural”. In fact, our rapacious, relentless corporate power structure is most unnatural. A freer and more democratic society is not only achievable. It is inevitable. Renewable energy is the next step toward the natural evolution of that new society.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s explore the natural evolution of culture that results when individuals establish their own energy independence.

What you create, when everybody generates his own power, is a private system of socialized electric power. You see, a power grid already exists. It is a nationwide grid that allows transfer of power from places with a power surplus to places with a shortage. The power companies trade the power back and forth. That’s the business Enron was in. Power companies generate the power centrally, and distribute it to consumers – like you.

When everybody has your generation system on their roof, the tables will be turned. Now the power will be generated by the present residential consumer. The power grid will distribute power from places where there is surplus – the desert for example – to places where there is shortage – Seattle for example. It could be distributed free. After all, you’re power is free. What do you care if you give some of it away. But if you want to make some money off of your abundant sunshine, don’t worry. That meter box on your house can be made to work both ways.

Your biggest customer – are you ready – will be corporations. Those skyscrapers don’t have enough roof space for electric power generation. Some manufacturers – steel comes to mind – use incredible amounts of electricity they couldn’t generate if they had a square mile devoted to solar panels. No problem. Right now they’re paying the power company. They can pay you just as well. You might even be able to give them a better deal.

The social implications are staggering in their magnitude. What you will create is a new culture of self-sufficiency. You will give every person who installs one of these systems a minimum boost in disposable income on the order of ten or fifteen percent of their present monthly income – without costing their employer an extra cent. They will use this to buy other stuff – increasing demand and giving the economy a shot in the arm. Or they will pay down some of their existing debt. This will lower demand for capital, lowering interest rates – giving the economy another shot in the arm. Finally, they will put more money into investments – giving the economy a third shot in arm. Every one of these economic stimuli will benefit ordinary people, more than capitalist elites. More spending, and increased production creates jobs – that pay the same wages to people with reduced expenses. Lower interest rates further reduces the average consumer’s balance of payments – at the expense of financial institutions. Greater investment by ordinary consumers democratizes – however slightly – control over the corporate power structure.

In short, renewable energy generation may eventually break the grip of the debt-driven consumer treadmill that imprisons so many of us in that “guilded cage” called capitalism. That’s the real reason people will buy the system.

The environmental benefits will be equally sweeping. If everybody was a renewable energy producer – distributing surplus over the power grid. – we would realize a 25 percent reduction in production of greenhouse gases, sulphur dioxide, etc, right out of the blocks. Add hydrogen fuel cell automobiles – fueled by the same electrolysis for your house, and we take care of almost all of the remaining source of emissions into the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution will be a thing of the past.

We also end our dependence on foreign oil, with all of the diplomatic and military headaches that come with it.

By bringing one emerging technology to market, you can create a little piece of grassroots socialism, by socializing electric power. You can put a boatload of money in the pockets of ordinary consumers – at no additional cost to their employers. You can clean up the air over Los Angeles, and end global warming, foreign oil dependence and domestic drilling, too.

And make a fortune in the process.

That’s the beauty of it. It’s capitalism, baby. It’s good old-fashioned entrepreneurial American know-how. Its capitalism working to transform capitalism into something a lot more democratic than what it is now.

The delightful irony is that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and the rest of the Republic neo-fascists can’t say much about it. It’s just business, Dubya. The fact is that new technology and new products change society. The automobile did it. The personal computer did it. So will residential renewable energy production. It will create more democracy. It will create more socialism – private socialism. We’ve already seen some of that. What is the internet, but a private system of socialized information?

It’s private business. It’s capitalism. It will free people from the consumer treadmill. That’s why corporate America hates the idea.

I’m talking about a great way to finally turn the tables on those corporate bastards. You don’t think the suits hate this idea? Tell me this. Westinghouse makes refrigerators, ranges, and washing machines. George Westinghouse made the first electric generators a hundred years ago. General Electric makes jet engines – not exactly a low-tech industry. Why don’t they make residential power generation equipment? Why haven’t their legions of engineers done any work on improving efficiency of the fuel cell. A jet engine uses turbines to compress air for combustion. Why hasn’t General Electric applied some that technology to the wind turbine? Why aren’t they involved in hydrogen fuel-cell research and development? Why isn’t the company that made them for the Apollo missions? They’ll sell you a washing machine, why not sell you a fuel cell stack to power it? How come all of the companies in renewable energy are “start-up” garage businesses?

This technology isn’t new. It was around twenty five years ago, when Jimmy Carter called for “the moral equivalent of war” to develop alternative energy. Solar panels have been powering satellites in orbit since the 1960’s. The first hydrogen fuel cell was made in 1843. No, that’s not a typo. The year was eighteen hundred and forty three. If we had taken Jimmy Carter’s advice, this technology would be as far along as the personal computer. We might already be living with socialized electric power.

Why do you think we didn’t do it? Why do you think corporate America and its conservative lackeys rose up in arms to defeat Jimmy Carter’s obviously sensible proposal. They said, “government shouldn’t be subsidizing this business.” Then they, the captains of the private sector completely ignored this technology – when they knew that average Americans were ready for it. The reason is simple. They don’t want socialized anything – public or private. The only reason they didn’t strangle the internet in its crib, was because they didn’t see it coming.

This technology exposes the “Achilles heel” of the corporate power structure. Accordingly, it is a golden opportunity for all of us on the left. This is the issue that we can use to pressure the suits, and force them to show us their true colors.

Conservatives oppose this technology. It’s not that they’re indifferent to it. They affirmatively dislike it. For all of it’s economic, environmental and even national security benefits, they oppose government sponsored research and development into it. They say that government shouldn’t be financing development of such technology – as if government research and development into jet propulsion, computers, electronics, radar, television, satellite communications, and who knows what else hasn’t made tidy fortunes for these corporate hypocrites. They say its “unproven”, as if the television sprang fully developed onto the market in the 1940’s. They say its “inefficient”, but what they really mean is that it is inefficient for a centralized producer. Production by individual consumers is as efficient as it gets. But they don’t want individual consumers producing their own power and getting off the grid – or worse, selling surplus power back to corporations.

It tilts the balance of economic power toward you – and away from them. It smells too much like freedom and equality

Corporate America knows what I have recently figured out, and what I am now passing on to you. Renewable energy is just the beginning. It is the first stage in the process of undoing the corporate power structure. It works by attacking the primary tool used by corporate capitalism to keep you in your place. That tool of corporate control has many names. One is the “rat race”. I call it the treadmill of mindless overproduction, consumption and the debt financing that drives it. Renewable energy breaks that treadmill, and will eventually lead to the evolution of a technologically advanced, decentralized, democratic, clean, sustainable and free society – from the bottom up.

I just showed you – in detail – how to accomplish the first step. In Part Two, I’ll show you some more.

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