The Invisible Hand

Advocates of free market design have fallen in love with “that invisible  hand” long attributed to Adam Smith to describe the natural force that guides free market capitalism through  competition for scarce resources. According to Adam Smith, in a free market each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and the interaction of market participants, leading to exchange of goods and services, enables each participant to be better of than when simply producing for himself/herself. He further said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this “invisible hand” would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.

Well, that invisible hand can also “slap you upside your face” as they would say in the South.  Here is an eloquent statement about how nuclear power has fallen to the market theories without consideration of deeper and more important collateral responsibilities.

Read what Power Magazine has to say. 

Gee … we don’t trust the invisible hand with solar or wind but we are willing to trust it on nuclear … and perhaps even hydro?

The key in my opinion is this:  Crane said, “One thing I know is when we shut a nuclear plant down, it’s never coming back. Today, the way the markets are designed—New England, PJM—they do not take fuel diversity and resiliency into the capacity market design to the level that needs to be to maintain the resiliency of the system.”

Seems like a clear slap in the face to me.

A Ban on Cats is on the Horizon!

No, I am not serious … well … I don’t think I am serious.

But, if you read this article on the relative threat of wind power vs. cats to birds, you could conclude that cats are a real problem to society.  That is if you are a bird lover.

Read what Wind Watch has to say. 

It is far from news that wind power can represent a significant threat to birds.  Even though most do not fly at night, bats do.  And, birds cannot see the blades of modern wind turbines as easily as they saw the older style of windmills.  Today’s wind turbines are over 400 feet long and are traveling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour.

The problem is compounded by the lack of trustworthy data.  Small birds are obliterated when they are struck and larger ones are carried off by vermin shortly after they reach the ground.  But, we do have a pretty good idea how many birds are eaten by household cats.

All this reminds me of the tongue in cheek criticisms of water being dangerous since people who die drink it and extreme amounts of it being swallowed have proven fatal … called drowning.

What a world we now live in!  I remember when DDT was banned because it was proven to be damaging.  Could we see wind power shut down for reasons like this?  What if certain bird or bat species land on the endangered species list as a result of these turbines?  And, are there parallel risks of bird blinding with all the solar panels we are putting up?



Folklore Now is Perfectly Rational

When I started in the utility industry about 45 years about the stories of squirrels eating electrical equipment insulation and thereby causing outages at customer facilities were legendary.  It was such common excuse for large customer power outages that field reps would actually carry a dead squirrel in their trunk and pull it out to proclaim that as the reason for the outage.

Yes, the stories were true in many cases.  The reason the squirrels ate the insulation was that it did appeal to them in some way … no one knew exactly why.

Well, with today’s environmentally sustainable sourcing of materials we now know exactly one reason.  Listen to what USA Today has to say about it.

I am sure my fellow utility friends are snickering about this and glad they are not the focus of customer wrath on this count.

On a more serious note, this is going to be very interesting to watch … what does happen when doing the right thing for environmental reasons results in costs that were unforeseen?  Worse yet, these outcomes are downright inconvenient to customers and could damage customer loyalty and brand preference.

I am sure no one making this decision had the foggiest idea that they could walk into this kind of trouble.

Shouldn’t that cause us all to take a deep breath and consider things like this before we “do the right thing?”


Who do you trust?

I have to admit, I was surprised to see this poll of who American’s believe are trustworthy.  As an engineer, I was pleased to see how highly our profession is ranked.  I was a little surprised by the perceptions of the professions above mine since I certainly know of all too many instances of abuse.  But, as you move down this scale where the slime and deceit increases, it is sobering to see how the professions cluster around those who are busiest trying to tell us what to believe and do.

Read how MoneyWise ranks the honesty of 27 professions.

How do we undo this web of corruption?  Can we “drain the swamp” when those who control the swamp are so keen to keep it just the way they like it?

We all talk about term limits and accountabilities.  Yet, the fox is not only in the hen house but is in charge of recruiting new hens to replace the ones they have eaten.

Designer Phones?

We are all unique in so many ways.  Yes, we may fall into broad groups when it comes to religion and politics, but all you have to do to see just how unique we all are is to shop at Walmart or get your drivers license renewed in person.   We celebrate diversity on many levels … it is a strength of our country.

So, why should we settle for one smart phone out of a small handful of choices?  Some of us hunt and fish, others play strenuous sports, some are young and do not need nor should have features that mature individuals desire.  It seems so logical then to imagine phones designed from the ground up to fit these perspectives … especially if you don’t like being criticized for the addicting behaviors with which today’s smart phones are being associated.

Take a look at this infomercial on the Wall Street Journal and decide for yourself.

Is this altruistic or opportunistic?  Is this merely to defuse imminent or future lawsuits?  Or, is this truly insightful about who we all are and how different we all are?

You decide.