Opinion: The Problem in Texas Isn’t Republicans – It’s Capitalism
To prevent last week's crises from recurring, we have to go beyond the Democrat vs. Republican culture wars and take back control of Texas' energy system.
The New York Times published an article last week quoting William Hogan, Harvard professor of global energy policy and ERCOT market architect, on the climate crisis in Texas: "It's not convenient. It's not nice. It's necessary." Hogan is correct. The ongoing catastrophe is not a system failure – it is the necessary outcome of capitalist free markets functioning exactly as designed.
As we look for political answers, it can be tempting to cherry-pick from the most obviously heinous villains. There's Ted Cruz, who tried to sneak in a trip to Cancun while nearly half his constituency didn't have heat. There's the newly elevated-to-infamy Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the 501(c)(4) lobbying organization and quasi-controller of the privatized statewide grid. Neither are blameless, but we cannot limit our scope to them. While Democrats and Republicans fire up the engine of their endless, pointless culture war, trading jabs about whether wind turbines or natural gas plants are to blame, we're expected to take the normal Red Team/Blue Team sides. But we risk missing the forest for the trees: This is exactly how the system is designed to operate.
The free market promises efficiency, innovation, fully stocked shelves, and the lowest possible prices. Day-to-day, this system trucks along just fine – if you overlook the nearly 4 million Texans living in poverty, or the half of Austinites who struggle to pay rent. Labor unions, one of the few vehicles working class people have to fight for social and economic improvement, come under attack every time our legislature convenes Downtown.
But in times of crisis, the market will cease to fulfill needs. This is not an accident. It is the natural outcome of a system based on maximizing profit and minimizing consumer cost, a system that requires that the cost of operations be kept to a bare minimum. In some sectors, that looks like paying starvation wages. In the case of the Texas energy market, that looks like decades of deregulation, non-winterized equipment, production of just enough energy to meet demand at any given time, and privately operated power-generating stations shutting down when people need them the most. By its own logic, the free market fails to fulfill its promises to society when pressed with any crisis. We had no power at my house for over 40 hours during a record-setting barrage of cold temperatures and winter storms. The power came back, but then the water was out, and there were dire warnings about the food supply crumbling. Almost half of Texans experienced similar or worse conditions that I did, and many have ongoing issues a full week after this crisis began. One of my neighbors, an elderly woman, told me last week that with no power, iced-over roads, and lows below 10 degrees, that she was afraid she would freeze to death in her home. This is a humanitarian crisis.
Wealthy officials holding press conferences from their luxury high-rise apartments or show ranches tell us that we're all in this together. Meanwhile, working-class people sit in the dark and freeze. This is not solely a "Red State" problem. If you're hoping that Democrats sweeping to power at the state level would remedy what ails Texas, look no further than recent crises in New York and California to see that they are not coming to save us. In deep-blue New York City, 2019 saw extended power outages in predominantly Black neighborhoods. In 2020, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo sent COVID patients into nursing homes, causing over 15,000 deaths, and then covered up the full extent of the misery he created.
The frequency of crises caused by climate change is increasing. If we have any hope of a society that distributes the basic necessities for survival to meet human need, it will take more than charitable elites or green capitalism. It will take building independent political organizations run by and for working-class people to challenge the bipartisan free-market consensus. We need democratic control of our energy system and a plan to prevent the next catastrophe. It's time for Texans to take back our power.
Dave Pinkham is an electrical worker, member of IBEW Local Union 520, and member of Democratic Socialists of America’s national leadership body. Read more at www.powerfortexas.org.
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