Heading into the winter, Europe is dealing with an power scarcity. It is a true scarcity, not a Smurfage – it’s characterised by synthetic restrictions on each provide and value. In a latest International Coverage Journal article, Brenda Shaffer illustrates many alternative methods this scarcity was created by European policymakers. I wish to name consideration to a couple worthwhile factors she makes and, being incurably pedantic, I even have a small nit to choose.

She factors out how European policymakers have an incentive to attribute all their power issues to Putin and his latest invasion of Ukraine, despite the fact that Europe’s power troubles are removed from a brand new incidence:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s throttling of the fuel faucets has undoubtedly made issues worse, however this may already be the third winter of Europe’s power disaster. Within the winters 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, Europe already skilled important spikes within the costs of electrical energy and pure fuel, in addition to fuel shortages that led to elevated use of coal and gas oil. European policymakers both didn’t take discover or most well-liked to not change course.

What induced the shortages within the earlier years? In brief, industrial coverage and central planning. European policymakers determined they might divine the “appropriate” mixture of power sources wanted to supply power to a complete continent, and handed legal guidelines and rules making an attempt to form the market in line with their plan:

Europe’s disaster has been twenty years within the making. Aiming to engineer a quick transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable sources, European policymakers compelled profound adjustments within the power provide. On the identical time, they ignored projections for continued demand for oil and pure fuel, in addition to the necessity for a dependable baseload gas supply to again up intermittent photo voltaic and wind. Many EU member states in the reduction of home manufacturing of fossil fuels and constrained imports, with the notable exception of fuel from Russia.

Shaffer additionally factors out that it’s not as if Russia is the one accessible choice for pure fuel. There are a lot of different sources of pure fuel accessible to Europe, however policymakers have blocked or in any other case hobbled imports from these sources, even as we speak:

Europe’s coverage of blocking fuel provides created shortages that began inflicting value spikes two winters in the past. Believing it’ll quickly have the ability to do with out fuel, Europe has additionally blocked long-term contracts for imports, with the outcome that Europe is ravenous for fuel despite the fact that it’s surrounded by some the world’s largest fuel reserves—not simply in Russia, but in addition in North Africa, Central Asia, and different areas. The EU might have simply ensured entry to dependable fuel provides at inexpensive costs however is now depending on the pricey spot market as an alternative. Even as we speak, whereas European officers trot the globe for brand spanking new fuel volumes, they’re refusing to signal long-term contracts with the courted producers.

Regardless of all of this, European policymakers proceed to push ahead in the identical mode of central planning that created this mess within the first place:

European leaders are conscious that their power market designs usually are not working. Nationwide governments are bailing out or outright nationalizing collapsing utilities. Most at the moment are setting electrical energy and fuel costs for patrons. Furthermore, Europe’s excessive price of carbon has not deterred utilities from firing up mothballed coal crops and switching from fuel to gas oil for electrical energy and warmth…As an alternative of focusing with urgency and laser sharpness on these points—and reversing mistaken choices similar to numerous international locations’ nuclear phaseouts—European leaders proceed to push new tasks which can be untested and much from commercially viable.

My most important nitpick is Shaffer’s use of the time period “scarcity.” In economics, shortages imply one thing extra exact than a low provide, or excessive costs. It’s not fairly true {that a} “coverage of blocking fuel provides” will by itself create shortages, though it might definitely contribute to cost spikes. To actually create shortages, costs must be prevented from rising to their market clearing degree. And, to her credit score, she does point out each using value controls and the way they’ve this impact:

At this time, Europe’s proposed caps on fuel and electrical energy costs, together with new levies on power producers, will additional limit provides whereas in search of to guard shoppers from the excessive costs that would induce them to decrease the thermostat and switch down the lights.

Right here she factors out one of many nice virtues of costs. Costs don’t merely convey details about the relative provide and demand of products; in addition they present an incentive to behave on that info. I might have preferred it if Shaffer made the connection between value caps and shortages extra specific all through her piece. To an economist, the connection between them could appear so apparent as to go with out saying, however when speaking with the general public, it’s essential to make that connection as clearly and forcefully as doable. Nonetheless, Shaffer has achieved nicely to level out each how European policymakers have engineered this disaster, and the way they’ve each incentive to place the blame totally on Putin somewhat than publicly admit their error or reverse course.


Kevin Corcoran is a Marine Corps veteran and a marketing consultant in healthcare economics and analytics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from George Mason College. 

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