The False Promise of Green Energy [VIDEO]

Economist Andrew Morris on Patriarch Bartholomew’s ideas on sustainable energy: “[H]e’s asking the wrong questions.”

Source: Acton Institute Power Blog | HT: Koinonia

For PowerBlog readers, we’re posting the video from Andrew Morriss’ April 26 Acton Lecture Series talk in Grand Rapids, Mich., on “The False Promise of Green Energy.” Here’s the lecture description: “Green energy advocates claim that transforming America to an economy based on wind, solar, and biofuels will produce jobs for Americans, benefits for the environment, and restore American industry. Prof. Andrew Morriss, co-author of The False Promise of Green Energy (Cato, 2011), shows that these claims are based on unrealistic assumptions, poorly thought out models, and bad data. Rather than leading us to an eco-utopia, he argues that current green energy programs are crony capitalism that impoverishes American consumers and destroys American jobs.”

Morriss, an Orthodox Christian, begins with a quote from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Istanbul, Turkey-based hierarch. Bartholomew said this in response to the March 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed:

Our Creators granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Ecologically-friendly science and technology has discovered ways and means of producing sustainable forms of energy for our ecosystem. Therefore, we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?

“The Ecumenical Patriarch and I don’t see eye to eye on this,” Morriss said. “I think he’s asking the wrong questions.”

Also see the PowerBlog post “Green Patriarch: No Nukes.”

In his book, Morriss and his co-authors warn that “the concrete results of following [green energy] policies will be a decline in living standards around the globe, including for the world’s poorest; changes in lifestyle that Americans do not want; and a weakening of the technological progress that market forces have delivered, preventing us from finding real solutions to the real problems we face.” Many of those lifestyle changes will come from suddenly spending far more on energy than we’d like. Green technologies mean diverting production from cheap sources, such as coal and oil, to more expensive, highly subsidized ones, like wind and solar. These price spikes won’t be limited to our electricity bills either, the authors argue. “Anything that increases the price of energy will also increase the price of goods that use energy indirectly.”

The better solution to improving America’s energy economy, the book shows, is to let the market work by putting power in the hands of consumers. But “many environmental pressure groups don’t want to leave conservation to individuals, preferring government mandates to change energy use.” In other words, green-job proponents know they’re pushing a bad product. Rather than allow the market to expose the bad economics of green energy, they’d use the power of government to force expensive and unnecessary transformation.

Morriss is also an editor of the forthcoming Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson (Cato, September 2012) with Roger Meiners and Pierre Desroches. The blurb for the Carson book notes that she got a lot wrong:

Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. As an iconic work, the book has often been shielded from critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson a team of national experts explores the book’s historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas. The conclusion makes it abundantly clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. While the book provided some clear benefits, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong.

Morriss is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones Chairholder of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is the author or coauthor of more than 60 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books. He is affiliated with a number of think tanks doing public policy work, including the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, the Institute for Energy Research, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In addition, he is a Research Fellow at the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law. He is chair of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. His scholarship focuses on regulatory issues involving environmental, energy, and offshore financial centers. Over the past ten years he has regularly taught and lectured in China, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Nepal.

Morriss earned an A.B. from Princeton University and a J.D., as well as an M.A. in Public Affairs, from the University of Texas at Austin. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After law school, Morriss clerked for U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders in the Northern District of Texas and worked for two years at Texas Rural Legal Aid in Hereford and Plainview, Texas.

He was formerly the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois College of Law and the Galen J. Roush Profesor of Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.


  1. cynthia curran

    Actually, there are much smaller nuclear devices that could replaced the large nukes and are safer, only Newt Gringrich has brought this up one time. And some of these devices I believe is used in some states. Also, I admirer of the Roman use of Aquaducts and water mills,granted I doubt that they can power most modern cities but might work in some third world countries. Maybe the Patriarch could look into this since he is now an aquaduct but I doubt it can be put to use again since I have seen cars travel undereath it and I belive the Valens Aquaduct carried water up to the 19th century, Roman engineering was superb but it might have been centuries since it was use to power water mills.

  2. The right question to be asking is if there is any way all this veneration of The Market can be considered compatible with Orthodoxy – to claim so is such an extraordinary deviation that it really requires a rejection of much of the Tradition, both ancient and contemporary. Until that problem is worked through the utilitarian argument is not particularly relevant.

    • One has to choose from among the available alternatives Greg. One feature of ‘The Market’ as you put it, often overlooked, is those educated people in it can find the approaches as best they might, trying and rejecting more than we’ll ever hear about. Government at times supports creativity in the market.

      There are plenty of parables in support of ‘The Market’ in the scriptures and traditions. Most notably one didn’t see lots of commands to go to Ceasar in order to solve the problems of creativity and productive work. There is no need to push the metaphor to the extreme of veneration.

      What doesn’t work is when government attempts to distort a market– we see merely that other societies/countries exploit those distortions to the former’s detriment.

      • Compatibility with Christianity aside, I don’t know that you will find too many people with economics degrees who believe in perfect markets. In fact, strictly speaking, markets are always in the context of law and regulation and culture and private power – strictly speaking, The Market in the sense that folks who yammer on about libertarian ideals imagine it is a utopian fiction. If you step back and look at it without ideological lenses, the problem with Acton and Cato is that they are writing hagiography for a god that doesn’t exist in the first place. In any case, the idea that one should even try to build a patristic or modern Orthodox case for a society driven around self-interest and profit seeking is absurd. Read St. Basil or St John the Golden-Mouthed. Or Solzhenitsyn. Or Dostoevsky.

        • “Greg” writes:

          If you step back and look at it without ideological lenses, the problem with Acton and Cato is that they are writing hagiography for a god that doesn’t exist in the first place.

          Speaking for Acton, I ask: Has he bothered to actually find out what Acton does? Is this market idolatry he claims to see anywhere in evidence at Acton? Numerous claims about a “perfect” market?

          Not only is his statement flatly wrong, it is insulting to the Christians, Jews and Muslims who have been supporting, researching, teaching and advancing the work of the Acton Institute for more than two decades. The sort of people who care deeply about social problems and how to create the foundations for human flourishing.

          Read the Core Principles. Look over the course list for Acton U. this June. Where is this “hagiography”?

          Idols here?

          Priority of Culture – Liberty flourishes in a society supported by a moral culture that embraces the truth about the transcendent origin and destiny of the human person. This moral culture leads to harmony and to the proper ordering of society. While the various institutions within the political, economic, and other spheres are important, the family is the primary inculcator of the moral culture in a society.

          • You must be kidding me: anyone can go to backgrounder material on Acton to see that it is an advocate of free market economics (since I have been a guest at sponsored events I am quite comfortable with the characterization). I am asserting that is incompatible with the Tradition of the Orthodox Faith, but I am sure some enterprising libertarian will be delighted to argue otherwise. In any case I sincerely apologize to all the Muslims and Jews I have offended by making this characterization. “Greg”

        • Greg, I don’t think anyone who has actually earned any degree thinks much of arguments that aim to discredit a subject using as a reason a perfect example of it doesn’t exist.

          In point of fact, you couldn’t get two economists to define ‘perfect market’ the same way to begin with. Come now.

          We are speaking of degree. The process of government regulation and legislation is a blunt instrument, slow to react, often containing ‘political deals’ enshrined in foggy language, a thing which altogether disfavors the innovators and smaller groups owing to the extensive overhead salaries needed to pay attorneys and lobbyists and support staff who exist only to service the government and comply with its rules.

          It is a fact that too much emphasis on those who burden ‘doers’ with distortions allows for others less burdened in other parts of the world to win money, win jobs, and win in general over those who aren’t so burdened. Many ‘Green’ vocalists are more interested in how that topic can increase the scope of their decision making authority, taxes and fees than anything to do with what ‘Green’ is about. The topic is a bonanza for those who want to increase the size of government.

          • And unregulated markets aren’t blunt instruments to those that have to bear the brunt of their costs? There aren’t a myriad of murky deals in private transactions that betray the public interest every day? There aren’t a myriad of market failures that create cost upon cost that exist solely because we don’t regulate efficiently, especially in the environmental context?

            But in any case, my point is not one of utility or efficiency. To quote one wise priest-commentator: “Let’s face it. You cannot call these Fathers — any of them — capitalists and be fair to either the term or the saints.” If you want to submit yourself to the teachings of the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Catholic Church you are going to be at odds with a lot of what is commonly praised in both liberal or conservative circles. His Kingdom, after all, is not of this world.

            • Fr. Johannes Jacobse

              But in any case, my point is not one of utility or efficiency. To quote one wise priest-commentator: “Let’s face it. You cannot call these Fathers — any of them — capitalists and be fair to either the term or the saints.”

              But the statement is so sweeping it is functionally useless, except of course to invoke a generalized moral approbation that fits so well with appeals to concepts like the “Kingdom” and other tems so vague that anyone can fill them with any meaning that he wants.

              So what defines “capitalism” in this context? Free markets? The caricature of the Progressive? And what defines “Kingdom”? The conflation of Progressive statism with the moral imperatives of the Gospel? Is the priest confused by the Progressive usurpation of the Christian moral vocabulary with policies inimical to human freedom? My hunch is that he is since he appears to think that the approbation alone is enough to settle the question (I am assuming you quoted him correctly).

              The concepts need to be clarified using more precise language before we accept at face value the implicit moral approbation contained in the quotation.

            • Where do you see “unregulated” markets? In fact, the economy we actually live in — not the one that the Church Fathers might have approved of in a thought experiment — is a mixed economy. The entire political and economic debate today is not about having perfectly “free” markets, because they don’t exist. The argument is about maximizing freedom, or maximizing regulation. Those who advocate for economic freedom reasonably, like the Acton Institute, do so understanding that markets should operate under the rule of law and with those actually engaged in commercial life exercising moral judgment. You can no more “regulate” corruption and sin out of the economy than you can “regulate” corruption and sin out of political life — or the Church for that matter.

              You say “free market economics” is incompatible with Orthodox Tradition? Really? So the millions of Orthodox immigrants who were desperate to leave the wretched poverty of their homelands, and were willing to leave family and friends and villages behind for a shot at the American Dream (yes, that hokey old notion), were committing all they had to an ideal that is in direct opposition to what you call Orthodox Tradition? And their success here, the vast prosperity they created and enjoyed, is somehow … what? A corruption of the Christian faith as understood by the Orthodox? All those Orthodox billionaires, millionaires and everyday working folk who prospered, built churches, sent money back to the villages, and supported various non-Orthodox charities — they weren’t with your program?

              So my grandmother, who didn’t want to spend the rest of her life walking barefoot behind a plow horse, left Greece and the Orthodox Tradition behind? Really? You obviously never met her.

              No one I know who advocates for a free market, or free enterprise, or the sort of democratic capitalism that has made this country great, talks about a “perfect” market. The economic system we have now is far from it. There is inequality, corruption, unfulfilled hopes and expectations, clear injustices. But tell me — where is the economic system in place today that produces better results, that lifts more people out of poverty, that minimizes these problems?

              Show me where it exists today. The musings of an anonymous priest who declares that the American economy is not in alignment with Orthodox Tradition is utterly irrelevant to the question.

  3. cynthia curran

    Well, I think in this case he is right, it has to do with practically. Personality, I don’t think the global warming is the end of the world. He is right most people will use cars. As stated petro chemcials can get so clean. As stated some enviromenalists even opposed hyrodelectric power. The Romans and the Byzantines use the most advance technology available to them. Why can’t modern countries their are trade offs and probably natural gas will be better than some alternatives. Nuclear does have some problems, and newer smaller devices can power not as much but are safer and cheaper to built. I don’t think its all the market but what is practical and many places don’t have the political will to emphasis public transporation like a low density city like Portland because public transporation will take some time in their area.

  4. Corneliu Ilea

    It looks like Mr. Moriss gets his pay check (or one of them, at least0 from the Koch brothers.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse

      Here we go again. Whenever someone can’t argue ideas, they throw out lefty shibboleths.

  5. Having listened to the video and, more importantly, known the speaker for some 10 years, I don’t think he “venerates” the free market. To suggest, however obliquely, that he does is calumny. What Professor Morriss does argue, and this is what is argued by the Acton Institute,is that for all its real faults the free market is the best option we have for structuring our economic life in a manner that benefits the most people.

    This doesn’t mean that economic prosperity is sufficient for a God pleasing life; it isn’t. But who here has suggested otherwise?

    While material wealth is not enough, it is better than what St John Chrysostom calls the “insufferable evil” of involuntary poverty. Do Americans misuse use our wealth? Absolutely and I’ll be speaking about this at Acton this June. I will also offer a solution and argue that the Church’s ascetical tradition offers an important corrective to consumerism.

    At the same time, we must avoid the temptation to reduce the free market to a catalog of its failures. There is also much good in the free market and it is as much a sin against charity and prudence do to deny this as it is to deny its failures.

    The free market is not above criticism. To dismiss it out if hand however while also enjoying its benefits is to fall prey to Manicheanism and as morally wrong as consumerism.

    Finally if the free market is not compatiable with the tradition of the Church then must we not ALL of us who are in Christ embrace a life of material poverty?

    In Christ,


  6. Fr Michael Butler

    Having received Dr Morriss and his family into the Orthodox Church, and having known him for a decade or more, I can assure you with all certainty that he does not venerate The Market.

    I think that Greg’s initial question, stripped of its bias, is a good one: are free markets compatible with Orthodoxy? Greg thinks they are not. Dr Morriss, who is both an Orthodox Christian and an economist of international repute, thinks that they are. It would make for a fine discussion if each of them would explain himself.

    I also agree with Greg that it would be good to read the Fathers (and Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn) and see what kind of wisdom they offer us on how best to live in an economy such as ours, and then, in turn, offer that wisdom to others. In this way, Orthodox Christians could remain faithful to our Tradition, and the Church could fulfill its role in contemporary society by helping to form the consciences of others and speak to the issues of the day. But that would require Orthodox Christians to speak in such as way as to be heard, and it would require us to respect and understand the positions of those who think differently than we do. Moreover, if we are sincerely interested in finding the truth, then we should be willing to learn from others as well, and to gather truth wherever it may be found (as St Basil the Great says in his “Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature”). It might also require us to learn something about economics, but we should be at peace even about that, for, as St Justin the Philosopher and Martyr says, “All truth, wherever it is found, belongs to us as Christians.”

    Forgive me if I offend.


    • Fr. Michael, In all fairness, the choice of language was provocative and in that respect unwarranted; however, I was speaking of the genre and not the individual. I do mean this seriously: I ask forgiveness for any mischaracterization or offense.

      Fr. Hans: Respectfully, I think we all know what Acton stands for and what it and outfits like Cato mean when they talk about capitalism – rather than split hairs over definitions, I simply refer people to their public literature and very long histories. I’m surprised to see the implication that the sources of funding are morally neutral, though. Very surprised.

  7. cynthia curran

    Most people here are probably not aware that many Byzantines complain about rulers that unjustly took their property away from them, Procopius’s Secret History is one of these sources. So, the Byzantines were not anti-private property. As for wage and price controls, I believe from evidence from the Justinian Plague that the pricing and wages was more market oriented even if guilds set the prices since business organizing for artisians was in guilds in the late Roman Empire. Justinian during the Plague years tried to set wage and price controls because prices and wages increase 2 to 3 times during the Plague which means there was a labor shortage and that guilds could set up the prices and wages free from the government in order to have increase 2 to 3 times. Lastly, the Silk Industry, the government was involved in the Silk Industry but there is a statement that one of the Leo’s borrowed some silk weavers from a wealthly lady. So I believe that some private business interest also was involved in the silk industry by emperor Leo’s time.

  8. Anyone truly interested in learning something about the Acton Institute — the intellectual foundations on which it is built — should pick up a copy of Fr. Robert Sirico’s new book, just released by Regnery. And visit the Acton book shop for much more on social and economic thought.

    Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy

    Amazon blurb:

    The Left has seized on our economic troubles as an excuse to “blame the rich guy” and paint a picture of capitalism and the free market as selfish, greedy, and cruel. Democrats in Congress and “Occupy” protesters across the country assert that the free market is not only unforgiving, it’s morally corrupt. According to President Obama and his allies, only by allowing the government to heavily control and regulate business and by redistributing the wealth can we ensure fairness and compassion.

    Exactly the opposite is true, says Father Robert A. Sirico in his thought–provoking new book, The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Father Sirico argues that a free economy actually promotes charity, selflessness, and kindness. And in The Moral Case for a Free Economy, he shows why free-market capitalism is not only the best way to ensure individual success and national prosperity but is also the surest route to a moral and socially–just society. In The Moral Case for a Free Economy, Father Sirico shows: Why we can’t have freedom without a free economy and why the best way to help the poor is to a start a business. Why charity works—but welfare doesn’t. How Father Sirico himself converted from being a leftist colleague of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden to recognizing the merits of a free economy. In this heated presidential election year, the Left will argue that capitalism may produce winners, but it is cruel and unfair. But as Sirico proves in The Moral Case for a Free Economy, capitalism does not simply provide opportunity for material success, but it ensures a more ethical and moral society as well.

    • I find it really hard to imagine that anyone could look around themselves and believe the free market is doing so much to help make a healthy and moral society in America – what force is doing more to undermine localism, communities, and families? Is our mass culture and the alienated and atomized individualism generated by market forces really defensible.

      Anyway, I will just note that Fr. Sirico is not Orthodox and as such he does not represent our Tradition.

      • I’m still patiently waiting for an answer to this:

        No one I know who advocates for a free market, or free enterprise, or the sort of democratic capitalism that has made this country great, talks about a “perfect” market. The economic system we have now is far from it. There is inequality, corruption, unfulfilled hopes and expectations, clear injustices. But tell me — where is the economic system in place today that produces better results, that lifts more people out of poverty, that minimizes these problems?

        Show me where it exists today. The musings of an anonymous priest who declares that the American economy is not in alignment with Orthodox Tradition is utterly irrelevant to the question.

        Show me the economic system today — concretely and not in some brain-spun Orthodox Utopia — that is more in conformity with Orthodox Tradition and produces the human flourishing, the tremendous economic growth that we’ve enjoyed for so long in the United States (combined with political liberty). The economic-political cultures they have in Greece? Russia? Syria?

        • Fr. Hans Jacobse

          John, one reason why it is so difficult for some Orthodox to comprehend your point may be that Orthodoxy in America largely discourages human creativity. Innovation, risk taking, everything associated and necessary for creative flourishing is almost never encouraged in the leadership ranks, and I think that filters down into parish life as well. The only place you see success is at the margins, where the risk takers have removed themselves from the immediate oversight of the hierarchs. The internal culture is one of conformity (‘enforced conformity’ is even more accurate) which is why we have not seen any real innovation for decades.

          Of the Big Three, I think Antioch is most open. The OCA and GOA don’t seem to produce much, apart from SVS which functions independently to a large measure.

      • Fr. Hans Jacobse

        The assumption behind statements like this is that increasing state control over private life will foster a moral culture. It won’t. All it will do is add penalties to those dare criticize the morality that statists prefer (arbitrary value towards human life, preoccupation with homosexuality, weakening of property rights, mainstreaming pornography, and so forth).

        • “the morality that statists prefer (arbitrary value towards human life, preoccupation with homosexuality, weakening of property rights, mainstreaming pornography, and so forth).”

          Regret to have to point out the obvious and say that virtually all of these are aggressively being wrought by market forces. Anyone who believes in any case that the dominant cultural tendencies are a product of “statism” has a broken mental model: these forces cannot be so nicely partitioned and its clear that the market side is a stronger overall driver for many of the concerns you have. Pornography couldn’t be a better example of a market driven product.

          In any case, regulating markets – let’s say sane environmental regulation to deal with the fact of market failure or simply recognizing that most of wall street activity is destructive – is hardly going to have teleological movement toward degraded morality. In a sane world, we’d recognize these as “conservative” instincts.

  9. cynthia curran

    Well, as Father Jacob wrote the Byzantines didn’t have a perfect economic system either too much on large land owning classes. In fact, the average poor person in the US lives not much less than the average rich person. For example both hispanics and asians live longer than whties and states like Hawaii and California live as long as Europeans that have state health care. In the Byzantine empire most people live to aged 37 to 40 and Byzantine emperors and empresses could live up to 78 years or older sometimes. This means the gap between the average person and Byzantine rulers is far greater. i get tired of the community versus individuals because all societies are based on community and individuals.

  10. cynthia curran

    Well, this is true Father Hans, the last era that Orthodoxy was able to influence was the Renaisance and many of those probably had Roman Catholic leanings. Orthodox Culture not religion loves the past and is slow to changed. Think that the biggest influence on western Europe was the Justinian Code which entered the west in the 11th century. The Byzantines didn’t think you could improved on Roman Culture and one reason why the greatest achievements were from the 4th to 6th century.

  11. cynthia curran

    Well, Greece in particular made great mistakes but the average Greek is not poor by world standards. The average Greek wages are above let’s say South Korea and Turkey and so forth. Russia is less developed and behind probably Turkey in wages and Syria may be at the Russia level or maybe worst. Greece is the best developed country in the orthodox world and either France or Ireland was in the Roman Catholic world in terms of income,.


  1. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Sat, 12 May 2012 02:06:37 +0000';1) The False Promise of Green Energy [VIDEO] Fr. Johannes Jacobse on […]

Care to Comment?