Steven Chu Reaches for the ‘Master Switch’
4:29 PM, Jun 10, 2013 • By ADAM J. WHITE
As Daniel Halper noted earlier today, ex-Energy Secretary Steven Chu raises a lot of eyebrows in his recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, where his defense of the department's loan guarantee program refuses to concede any lessons learned from the Solyndra fiasco.
But that is not the only comment that seems blissfully unaware of history. Arguing that electric utilities need to seek their fortunes in solar power and battery technology, he offers a surprising new vision of the energy industry:
The details have to be worked out! That's quite an understatement, considering how well Bell Telephone's version of vertical integration worked out.
Chu's dream for the future is startling in and of itself, but what makes it all the stranger is its utter discordance with the entire progressive zeitgeist. Tim Wu and Susan Crawford, in particular, have won great acclaim with their recent books -- The Master Switch and Captive Audience, respectively -- in which they recount the history of telecom monopolists, best exemplified by the Bell/AT&T story, to support their arguments in favor of net neutrality. They argue that vertically integrated corporate infrastructure monopolies cannot be trusted to restrain themselves from abusing market power.
Thus, for telecom infrastructure, progressives' answer tends to be "net neutrality." In sketching out his vision for the future of solar power, and of national energy policy in general, Secretary Chu ought to consider the benefits of "neutrality," and the risks of relying on private infrastructure monopolies to achieve even well-intentioned policy goals.
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