Latest Bizarre Proposal: Save Democracy By Taxing Energy To Make It Too Expensive To Blog

from the say-what-now? dept

Okay, we see all sorts of crackpot ideas and theories show up from time to time, but it’s not often that you get one quite this bizarre published in a publication quite as respectable as the Washington Post. Yet here is the venerable Washington Post with an op-ed from the lawyer, Dusty Horwitt, for a “nonprofit environmental group” in Washington DC complaining that blogging and other types of internet content are somehow a drag on democracy, and the solution is for the government to raise energy taxes such that it would make it too expensive for the riffraff to continue owning computers with internet connections, thereby reducing this flood of information. Yes, I think he’s serious. There is, I will admit, a chance that this is pure satire. If so, I’ll just tip my hat and admit that I was fooled — but let’s move forward on the assumption this is serious.

There are so many troubling aspects to this op-ed that it’s difficult to know where to start. First, he brings up the classic complaint that the internet today is producing “too much information.” Apparently, he believes that all this bad information somehow prevents good information from being distributed. Good information, by the way, is apparently information published in traditional newspapers. He uses a troubling interpretation of a few questionable stats to establish this — assuming that because some people spend less time on various online sites, they’re somehow not getting access to the good information that they need. He doesn’t seem to consider that websites and the ease of publishing now allows people to get access to more good information that it was difficult to come by in the past.

He then goes on to suggest that true social movements have only happened because of the scarcity of broadcast media options, which somehow forced everyone to hear only a single message. This is, apparently, a good thing — because obviously the big professional media only reports on the important stuff, whereas everyone else only reports on bad stuff. He honestly makes the claim that the civil rights movement wouldn’t have happened today, because all of these other media would have drowned out the issue. It was only because a few newspapers decided that it was important to cover it — and because people had nowhere else to get distracted — that people actually made civil rights an issue. Today, I guess, we’d all just go back to watching hamsters hit each other on YouTube.

So, the problem, as he has described it is that all these damn people are talking to each other online, rather than listening to what the big important “good” media has to tell us. He says that the answer isn’t necessarily to tax the technology of production — though he considers this — but to tax energy. He recognizes that it takes energy to use a computer and connect to the internet, so if it’s much more expensive, he believes that plenty of folks would give up talking, and go back to being passive consumers of what the big professional media says is important today. As a side benefit (no, seriously), he points out that this increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to offshore jobs. These would be the same jobs that have helped create new jobs and grow the economy (he leaves that part out). It’s a wonder his proposal hasn’t already been turned into legislation. Who wouldn’t support a policy of higher energy costs to shut up the riff raff and make Americans have to pay more for just about everything?

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Comments on “Latest Bizarre Proposal: Save Democracy By Taxing Energy To Make It Too Expensive To Blog”

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Gutless Wonder says:

Another side benefit

As a side benefit (no, seriously), he points out that this increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to offshore jobs.

As yet another side benefit, the increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to print newspapers, too. Or power televisions and radios. Or pay lawyers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

Dusty’s column isn’t about taxes, it isn’t about the blogs, its about controlling the information as mentioned in his 18th paragraph. Back in the day, some people found that by owning 20 newspapers, he could control the media. Blogs changes those rules, and seems similar to his comment in the 18th paragraph:

“A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now.”

I find it odd that the article comes from a (sic) nonprofit environmental lawyer. If they wanted to make a case for energy conservation issues, why not start with the inefficiencies within the combustion engine. A car converts chemical energy into heat and mechanical energy with an efficiency rating of about 2%. (When operating, the car looses 98% of its energy in the form of “Heat”)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

> The otto cycle engine is inefficient, but it isn’t that bad. It’s more like 30%, not 2%.

However, in this make believe world called “Carbon-Credit Land”, the notion is to take into consideration the energy required to manufacture, which would be amortized over the product’s life. Not just operating efficiency.

Anonymous of Course says:

Control, control's the thing!

Just Like Patty Asp in Reform School Girls, it’s all
about control. Even love of money (after a point)is
rooted in a compulsion for control.

You don’t believe the same things that I do. So you’re
either stupid or uneducated… or perhaps your mind has
been poisoned by propaganda.

Yes, that’s a cause we can all get behind. Now what
shall we do? How about passing the fairness doctrine
and shutting down all those nasty bloggers as well.

God save the republic from such small minded people.
They would be dictators.

NSMike says:

Satire? Maybe...

Much of what I read in that op-ed seemed pretty serious, but there was one glaring line that made me doubt that this was a serious attempt at discussion: “For this article, I got newspaper Internet readership statistics from the Web site of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). But if there hadn’t been prior newspaper coverage of the NAA, I might never have found its site.”

If he’s being serious with this, then he’s a moron, and it’s clear that he has no idea what he’s talking about, and neither do the editors at the Post that published this. If it’s satire, it’s brilliant, and even a bit subversively saying, “This is what you newspaper goons sound like. And I got it in under your noses.”

But so much of this sounds serious that I think he’s just a loon that got lucky with some dumb editors.

sashi138 says:

ummm.. if he's not kidding..

as far as I’m concerned; if this *is* satire, then its pretty silly..
but if this person is actually serious, then (as bad as this might sound) find this guy and blow his brains out before this rectal, misinformed idiot actually tries to get someone thats a greedy bastard in congress or such to *ATTEMPT* to but this into motion under another name..
this kind of absolutely assinine thinking should be SMASHED fast!

snark386 says:

He could be on to something....

We could save the republic by holding less elections, If we elected our leaders less frequently, say, every thirty years or so, I propose an election tax that coupled with scarcity of free elections would save this nation. After all holding less election’s means we are saving more freedom. We, as a people would be able to trust our wise leaders who understand the value of 1850 america*.
*(OK, that won’t happen but my point is sound)

Terri says:

taxing energy

This is already in the works. When Canada opened it’s broadband for auction it paved the way for more Internet Service Providers who will in turn “”charge customers for each site a person would like on home page and have the right to deny some sites.” This is supposedly a pilot project for Canada to see how it will be received,already we have the text messaging fee; if there is not enough dissent then it will go N.America and on and on,until the Internet is totally in the hands of the military(Rumsfelds & or Cheneys plan)

Anonymous Coward says:

According to Arizona State University engineering professor Eric Williams, a desktop computer “is probably the most energy-intensive of home devices, aside from furnaces and boilers.”

I looked up Eric Williams at ASU. He writes about recycling computers, but I could find nothing like the above statement.

This is probably good because the comment is utter crap. My laptop uses about 75 watts or so. About the same as a medium sized incandesant light bulb. I don’t have the conversion from btus to watts in front of me, but even a small furnace must be something like hundreds of times that. My refrigerator, my tv, the total power consumption of of my lighting beats my computer. Clothing dryies, air conditioning, etc, etc,,, all way more power.

If energy prices go up to the point he suggests, most of us wont even be able to afford huddling in the dark and cold, listening to a transistor radio.

This is so stupid that it cant possibly be satire…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Energy?

The real problem is COFFEE MAKERS! We should quadruple the taxes on coffee! That will cut down on computer use!

I like it! There are a lot of computer illiterate out there that you could collect tax from!

The same law should propose no tax on Mountain Dew!

Craig says:

One point...

The op-ed, like everyone has already stated, is really about the traditional media losing complete control of the message. However, I believe there is some validity to the point about activism and social issues. People put “End Poverty Now” banners on their blogs or put an EFF badge etc., and that is the extent of their involvement. How many of these people would literally walk the street demanding change?

Don’t get me wrong, blogging CAN and HAS had an impact on corporations and governments, but the op-ed is right – nobody these days would drag themselves away from their MySpace / Facebook sites long enough to participate in a march or protest.

It’s one thing to be against racism or the “ism-du-jour” and a whole other thing to put your face out their for the media circus to report on.

Ed Duffy (user link) says:

Too Much Information?

Yes, all this communicating is distracting people from what’s really important: The latest house fire, police chase, what Brittany Spears is up to, how this politician feels about what that politician said about him, how a dozen experts feel about how he feels about it, live coverage of the backpack outside the bus stop that’s probably just a backpack, but we’re going to ponder what would happen if it were actually a nuclear bomb…

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Actual Energy Consumption of Computers.

Here is a summary table of household electricity consumption. As you will note, less than 10% of electricity consumption is used for all home electronics, and computer account for only about 2%. The big ticket items are heating and cooling equipment of one kind or another.

Total Electricity Consumption– 1,139.9 Bill. KWH;

Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling– 355.7 Bill. KWH; Kitchen Appliances (mostly refrigerators and freezers)– 304.5 Bill. KWH; Water Heating– 104.1 Bill. KWH; Clothes Dryer– 65.9 Bill. KWH; Clothes Washer– 10.1 Bill. KWH; Subtotal: 840.3 Bill. KWH (bear in mind that this is only the electric equipment– it does not count equivalent appliances powered by gas, propane, or fuel oil).

Lighting 100.5 Bill. KWH;

Home Electronics– 82.3 Bill. KWH; of which: Color TV– 33.1 Bill. KWH; VCR/DVD– 11.3 Bill. KWH; PC and Printer 23.1 Bill. KWH;

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“You’re SURPRISED that this came from WaPo? And you call them a ‘venerable’ institution? That boat sailed years ago when they, like most other metropolitan newspapers, started blatantly carrying the banner for liberal politics. There is nothing venerable about WaPo anymore. The subject of this blog proves it!”

LMAO, when exactly did they start carrying this banner out of curiosity?

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like . . . .

a frustrated lobbyist who is not getting any traction for his movement or group. He doesnt understand how to succeed using the newer technologies and since he considers “his movement” to be the most crucial thing facing mankind in entire history of the universe, anything he views as preventing him from “selling” it must be inharently be bad.

I have to side with Mike on this a little too. This crackpot and his ignorant opinion dont really bother me. However, the Washington Posts decisions to waste ink on it I do find troubling.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Sanity Check-- Manufacturing Energy.

When I hear some of these figures people fling about for energy consumed in manufacturing whatever machine they don’t like, I find a useful sanity check is to work out how much energy would be required to melt or vaporize the device in question. For example, automobiles are made mostly out of steel. So I dug up figures for melting iron from the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, and I chased down energy consumption figures from the steel industry, which came out about the same as the theoretical figures. The effect of these figures was that the energy cost of making an automobile is on the order of a couple of tanks of gasoline, perhaps thirty times lower than the spurious figures churned out by oil industry publicists. It is understandable why oil industry publicists want you to think that hybrid cars are impossibly expensive.

The same kind of argument applies to a personal computer. The vast majority of the materials are ordinary, such as the steel casings, chassis, etc., and the plastic parts. The total weight of the chips is on the order of grams, and the weight of the etched layers of the chips is on the order of milligrams. That said, the energy required to manufacture a computer is insignificant compared to that required to manufacture an automobile, which, as I have said, is insignificant compared to that required to drive an automobile.

Steve Lowe says:

Taxing Energy

Once again we see the stupity of lawers. There are now too many lawers and they spent way too much time finding stupid ideas for civil suits or the above mentioned tax on energy. Instead of energy, why not put a 60 to 70 percent tax on lawers and on anyone taking law courses in college to become a lawer. While at it why not send a lawer to jail along with the person who’s case they lost.

TravisO (profile) says:

Re: Important Information

>> I have learned more important information from comments on this blog than I have through traditional media.

This is why we have to put a stop to the internet, because if you were a good little soylent green eating sheep, you wouldn’t have to worry yourself over these complicated matters, let your government and the lawyers handle it.

Now take a deep breathe and let the nerve.. I mean pleasure gas fill your lungs.

BTR1701 (profile) says:


If his theory is that taxing energy to the point that consumers would be forced to choose whether to turn on their computers, I think energy would have to be pretty expensive. This would probably force people to not only turn off their computers, but to certainly turn off their TVs, water heaters, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators and pretty much everything else that draws electricity since those things use vastly more power than a desktop computer. And while people are making these choices about what essentials they will have to do away with, they might also just decide to stop paying for a newspaper if they subscribed to one in the first place.

And what, may I ask, will be done with all of these billions in extra taxes which make people’s lives miserable and tantamount to living in Mexico? I’m sure they will go to creating newer and more exciting welfare or healthcare programs that we are sorely lacking and which will not only get us closer to a utopian society, but will not waste single penny of our electro-tax dollars in the process.

I think this guy is on to something. This is the sort of radical out-of-the-box thinking that we need so that there won’t be any boxes in our lives ever again.

Emerson (user link) says:

Functional Insanity

Articles like this make my head expand like Jiffy Pop. Over-educated simpletons think themselves into functional insanities, which they present to the world as reasonable and necessary for the greater good. You can write it off as well-intentioned ideas too outside the box for us little people. Or, you can question how much more nutty Dusty has to be before they take away his cutlery privileges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Editors should EDIT. Readers should READ. Got it?

You guys here just don’t get it, do you? Newspapers have *trained* staff who filter information and determine what’s important and what’s not important. Who are you to question this?

Environmental Working Group

I’d be embarrassed if I worked for this outfit. How can you do internet outreach if you have people like this who don’t understand the fundamentals of the medium? What a joke.

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