Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

The one "good thing" about the Enron scandal/California Energy Crisis was that it provided a nice way to teach about monopoly and interesting supply curves in my economics classes. When the fake energy crisis hit California, at the time FERC could have taken one simple step to fix it and institute hard price caps on wholesale power sales. At the time the Sage Geniuses of the Media, the self-annointed economic geniuses, Knew just Knew that that since California's "problem" was not enough electricity that price caps would simply exacerbate the problem by reducing the amount of electricity supplied by producers. This they gleaned from a week or two of Econ 101 that had imprinted iteslf on the back of their brains.

Of course what was going on in California (part of it anyway, and reducing it to its essence) was that due to imperfections and bottlenecks in the transmission grid, combined with the ridiculously designed deregulation scheme requiring retailers to buy on the spot market at any wholesale price, local power generators had monopoly power at least over local areas. And, when you have a monopoly, price caps somewhat paradoxically actually increase the quantity supplied because the incentive to withhold supply in order to raise the price is removed.

Fun times.