TVA poses problem for ideologues

North Alabama politicians may have the toughest job in the world, a fact that became clear Wednesday when President Barack Obama floated the idea of privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Their job is difficult because of the incessant sales pitch they feel they must make. They feel they must be relentless in their attacks on the federal government. They must promote market forces over government at every turn. They must call for the smallest possible federal government.

They must make this pitch, however, in a region that is uniquely dependent on the federal government.

North Alabama’s federal lawmakers routinely rail against the “socialist” policies of the federal government. With considerable support from their constituents, they blast a government they view as too large and too disruptive of capitalism. Lists of federal agencies that should be abolished flow from their lips with abandon.

What they do not do, however, is target TVA. They recognize, as do their constituents, that north Alabama owes much of its success to the government-owned utility. They know that the low rates and reliable power that TVA provides are instrumental to the region’s industrial success. They know the river, once unnavigable, provides north Alabama industries with inexpensive access to markets around the world. And they know, of course, that thousands of north Alabama voters work for TVA and its suppliers.

Obama did not propose selling TVA in his budget, but he did propose studying whether divestiture makes sense. The uproar among Tennessee Valley politicians was immediate, appropriate and disingenuous.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, questioned whether Obama can demonstrate privatizing TVA “will lower the costs of electricity to TVA consumers. … Quite frankly, I am skeptical the President can make that case.”

Yet Brooks has been making the case since before he took office in 2010. He has been a tireless advocate of free-market efficiency and an implacable enemy of government performing functions that could be handled by the private sector.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby also challenged Obama’s idea, questioning whether divestiture would allow for “affordable electricity throughout the region.”

Maybe most direct was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.: “There is no assurance that selling TVA to a profit-making entity would reduce electric bills in the Tennessee Valley — which should be the overriding objective — and it could lead to higher electricity rates.”

What each lawmaker is acknowledging is that government sometimes works better than the free market. A wise society does not allow cookie-cutter ideology to trump beneficial programs.

TVA is imperfect, but it does a better job than most private entities with the same tasks. Begun as one of the nation’s most massive stimulus programs, it continues to provide vitality to north Alabama.

We applaud area politicians for defending a governmental corporation that has improved the lives of millions. We just wish they would recognize their defense of TVA should temper their ideological attacks on a federal government that does much good for the citizens of north Alabama.

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3 Comments

Filed under Capitalism, Free Market, Socialism

3 responses to “TVA poses problem for ideologues

  1. I would probably NEVER agree with anything Richard Shelby, Lamar Alexander, or Mo Brooks (all with the initial “R” after their names) said. And here it is again. Quotes from each question whether privatizing TVA would lower electricity cost for its consumers (residential and commercial) in the Tennessee Valley. I am absolutely certain that privatizing the electricity generation and transmission assets of TVA would raise the cost of electricity to all in this valley. These dim bulbs question “whether the President can make the case for lowering electricity costs.” Guys, that isn’t the President’s proposal or the justification for it. The proposal is to STUDY the issue. The justification for privatizing TVA would be to get the Government out of the electricity business, to make for your beloved “smaller government,” the people be damned. An absolute consequence of making non-profit TVA as a business go private is that its product will cost more. MoBro even brags about his degree in economics; maybe he was absent from class that day.
    TVA, obviously socialism at its finest, was established not to get or keep electric costs low for the people of the valley, but TO BRING ELECTRICITY TO THE VALLEY THAT HAD NONE OR LITTLE OF THE PRODUCT, among many other benefits. TVA began by producing hydroelectric power, a venture with enormous capital expense that in the ’30s only the Government could afford. I agree with the President that its missions have been accomplished, and perhaps studying privatization is worth thought and debate. But for me, I’m happy with the way it is.

  2. hughmorg

    While we’re at it, let’s privatize the Postal Service. Congress has that intent anyway, it seems. DHL, UPS, and FedEx are ready to compete for the business. I’d welcome AT&T, Wellpoint (Blue Cross, etc.), Walmart, Bank of America, and the parent company of Hobby Lobby in the mix, wouldn’t you?

  3. I would love to see the TVA privatized. Unfortunately, Republicans are just political opportunists. They don’t genuinely believe in liberty.

    Vote Libertarian 🙂

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