Travis Rowley: The Cost of Liberalism

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Rhode Islanders were recently informed that “state regulators have approved higher rates for National Grid customers, and that “the typical Rhode Island household [will] pay 3.5 percent more for electricity and an additional 4.9 percent for natural gas.”

“Fair” and “reasonable” is how the rate hike was described by Michael D. LaFlamme, National Grid’s Vice President for Regulation and Pricing. LaFlamme offered his endorsement of the new deal despite the fact that “National Grid agreed to lower the rate hikes from what was originally requested.”

This may hurt Mr. LaFlamme’s feelings, but it is hardly comforting to be told that he (and probably all of those involved in the decision – National Grid, the US Department of Navy, and Rhode Island government) considers this new arrangement to be “a fair deal for our customers.” After all, how are customers and taxpayers to be certain that National Grid’s rates are as low as they could possibly be? Because National Grid “agreed to lower the rate hikes from what was originally requested”?

That’s it?

What if National Grid, fully understanding the nature of negotiation, purposely requested rate hikes that were unreasonable in order to increase their chances at a compromise that satisfied their true wishes?

The Providence Journal reported that LaFlamme “described the settlement as a reasonable compromise for all the parties.”

I bet he did.


Mr. LaFlamme may be a decent guy, but why should Rhode Islanders trust this corporate actor? Because government actors – oh so known for their deep concern for the public’s pockets – were also in the room when the deal went down?

And are Rhode Islanders supposed to be relieved that “regulators” approved this measure, rather than elected representatives who could actually suffer consequences for voting in favor of this latest rate increase? What are the actual incentives that may compel a government regulator to do right by the public?

Furthermore, just how prolific are these people at making prudent decisions? Weren’t government bureaucrats, namely the Economic Development Corporation, largely responsible for the 38 Studios debacle?

By the way, are any of Mr. LaFlamme’s relatives among “the three members of the state Public Utilities Commission” who “unanimously voted in favor” of this settlement agreement?

I’m just asking. This is Rhode Island after all.

The Cost of Living?

In stark contrast to this central economic planning are private markets, which don’t allow corporations to “request” permission for price increases from government partners. While prices are continuously beaten down by the forces of competition, companies must ask the consumers for authorization to raise their rates.

Liberals, that’s called “power to the people.”

Whether altering the relationship between Rhode Island and National Grid is realistic or desirable, we again observe the reality that the rejection of capitalism causes injury to the poor and middle class; that the embrace of collectivism invariably leads to an increase to the cost of just about everything.

We often hear liberals wail over the “cost of living” (an arbitrary calculation if there ever was one). Perhaps “the cost of liberalism” is a more accurate expression – and more easily appraised.

After all, in addition to the unavoidable inefficiency of the progressive partnership that National Grid is involved in, we learn from a Providence Journal report that the “new rates have nothing to do with the price of electricity or gas. Rather, they relate to the operating expenses of delivering energy…including higher pension costs and the costs of adding 19 new electrical workers required under the minimum-staffing provision of a 2007 union contract.”

Unions. Go figure.

LaFlamme would go on to explain that the new “agreement also helps cover increases in municipal property taxes paid by National Grid, a figure that has gone up by double digits since 2008 and amounted to $40 million in 2011.”

Taxes. Go figure.

Nice work, Democrats. Just keep on taxing those “evil corporations.” Keep punishing all that “corporate greed.” It seems to be working out quite nicely for the “working class.”

Progressive Interference

National Grid’s rate hikes are not uncommon to companies who find themselves under assault by the Rhode Island Left. In addition to the strength of Ocean State unions and having to do business in a state whose capital city charges one of the highest business property tax rates in the country (second only behind Detroit), in July 2011 Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law the Henry Shelton Act – legislation that further socialized utility costs by forcing National Grid to continue their services for those who refuse to pay their bills.

The namesake of this particular legislation is the founder of the George Wiley Center, an “anti-poverty” (read: pro-poverty) agency whose “mission” is “to build a community that addresses human needs and redresses injustices” – fighting primarily for “social and economic justice.”

Yes, progressives believe that one man’s poverty is another man’s crime.

Flat out, the George Wiley Center is a socialist outfit named after a black radical who is widely regarded as the “father of the ‘welfare rights’ movement” – a ‘60s initiative that “pushed for a guaranteed living income” for every American. George Wiley was a Warwick native charged with the task of pioneering across the country the Cloward-Piven Strategy, which called for “swamping the welfare rolls with new applicants, beyond what the system could bear” in order to hasten a socialist revolution. The Cloward-Piven Strategy is best described as a “strategy for forcing political change through orchestrated crisis.”

Is it any wonder, then, that members of the George Wiley Center admitted several years ago that they were “in the midst of a major battle…to get 60,000 more Rhode Islanders signed up for Food Stamps,” and are continuously found clamoring for every type of public benefit imaginable?

“[Our] enduring task is to help [the poor] find their own voice…for they are not powerless once they recognize that their numbers count,” members of the George Wiley Center have pronounced. These are the radicals who best understand Karl Marx’s instruction: “Democracy is the road to socialism.” These are the professional progressive activists who cry foul every time cuts to the welfare state are suggested, even as we discover that Rhode Island does more to spread wealth among its residents than any other state.”

While you go to work and raise your family, the George Wiley Center spends its time lobbying your elected representatives, training countless community organizers, and manipulating the minority community – “help[ing] with Spanish translation.”

These are the people behind the Henry Shelton Act – a law that created “a state fund to help low income families pay for their heating and lighting bills” and “authorize[d] the state to add a surcharge to the bills of ratepayers of up to $20 a year.”

Just how low would your National Grid bill be without all of this liberalism?

Travis Rowley is the author of The Rhode Island Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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