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Crony Capitalism in the U.S. Energy Industry: A Brief Review

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- September 4, 2012

Editor note: This post follows those of Walter Donway, who authored Crony Capitalism: Principles (Part 1) and Crony Capitalism: Practice (Part 2).

America’s energy industries (oil, gas, electricity) have been a bastion of crony capitalism for much of their history. Leading gas and electricity firms sponsored state and then federal public-utility regulation during the Progressive Era and New Deal. Like other so-called public utilities, they welcomed the prospect of making commission-approved “reasonable” profits in an entry-restricted environment rather than taking their chances in open-entry markets.

The U.S. coal industry also longed for federal aid. “The bituminous coal industry has been one of the most chaotic industries in the United States in recent years,” an Ohio University professor wrote in 1940. “Because of this lack of order it has recommended itself to the Nation as an industry urgently in need of social control and, as a result, it has come to serve as a significant laboratory for experiments in certain types of government regulation.”…