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Civil Society and Natural Gas during the Great Texas Blackout

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One of the barbs tossed around frequently on Twitter last week — more wistful than angry — was that we’d all be better off if H-E-B took over the Texas power grid. (Houston Chronicle, below)

Government grows from crises. In the wake of the Great Texas Blackout, the foregone reliability path of greater market reliance–a true free market absent state and federal regulation and regulators–deserves serious debate.

For students of crises in free societies, the Texas power debacle offers another example of civil society stepping up where government is unable or unwilling to do so. As noted in “It’s Not Getting Any Better’: Undergrads in Texas Contend with Snow, Power Outages,” The Harvard Crimson (February 19, 2021):

[Molly] Martinez [of Dallas] added that Texas residents turned to community organizers for assistance during the storm due to the government’s failures. “Nobody was expecting this breakdown of state infrastructure and the lack of resources provided by the government,” she said. “A lot of the work that’s being done is through mutual aid, through community organizing, and things like that to really work through the community and help people.”

The preeminent Texas grocery chain, H-E-B, also has received kudos for its provision and relief efforts in the blackout, as it did in early crises (see here, here, and here). H-E-B generators running on natural gas kept the supply chain open, but a store that lost power let customers take groceries for free during the emergency.

Editorialized the Houston Chronicle:

One of the barbs tossed around frequently on Twitter last week — more wistful than angry — was that we’d all be better off if H-E-B took over the Texas power grid.

“We are constantly in a year-round state of preparedness for different emergencies,” H-E-B President Craig Boyan said in an interview with Texas Monthly. “We keep emergency supplies at almost every warehouse and have water and other supplies staged and ready to go and kept in storage to make sure that we are ready… when a crisis emerges, whether it be a hurricane or a pandemic.”

H-E-B keeps its customers fed, if not comfortable, when a crisis hits. And they remember — which is one reason the company gets high marks on customer loyalty and reputation surveys year after year. That’s also why, early in a pandemic or during a freak winter storm, so many Texans look to H-E-B almost as a de facto arm of government. It’s not. It’s a company that knows its customers and their needs intimately and as a result, it’s one of the most successful chains in a low-margin industry. It’s a master at selling groceries and pharmaceuticals, not at governing.

This recent experience is not an outlier. It was a key takeaway from the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005. In Signaling Effects of Commercial and Civil Society in Post-Katrina Reconstruction (2008), author Emily Chamlee-Wright found:

Mutual assistance, commercial cooperation, and the redevelopment of key community resources help to overcome collective action problems by reducing the high costs of an early return and by signaling the potential for widespread recovery to individual actors. Though most redevelopment plans assume that a large-scale government response is the only way to overcome the collective action problem, I argue that private recovery efforts within commercial and civil society challenge this assumption.

In April 2020, the same lessons were brought to bear on the COVID pandemic as an alternative to brute-force stimulus programs:

Societies across time and geographical location have endured and recovered from the death, destruction, and displacement brought on by profound crises such as hurricanes, famines, and war. Our extensive research on community response and recovery after disasters has shown that commercial and social entrepreneurs are key drivers of disaster response and recovery.

Eschewing one-size-fits-all, the Mercatus authors continue:

… responding to and recovering from this pandemic will require a multifaceted set of entrepreneurial ideas and solutions and a policy environment that encourages rather than stifles entrepreneurship. Policymakers should give entrepreneurs the space to act in the midst of crises by expanding the notion of “essential” goods and services, suspending or removing regulations that stand in the way of entrepreneurial efforts, and avoiding confusing  or conflicting policies.

Government grows from crises. In the wake of the Great Texas Blackout, the foregone reliability path of greater market reliance–a true free market absent state and federal regulation and regulators–deserves serious debate.

The post Civil Society and Natural Gas during the Great Texas Blackout appeared first on Master Resource.



Source: https://www.masterresource.org/texas-blackout-2021/civil-society-and-natural-gas-during-the-great-texas-blackout/


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