Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris has been making waves of late with congressional testimony and a Wall Street Journal oped advocating restrictions on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
To oppose “unfettered,” ”unlimited,” or “unchecked” LNG exports — in other words, to fetter, limit, and check the freedom of gas producers to sell their own products — Dow formed a business group called America’s Energy Advantage (AEA). Other members include Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor.
AEA’s rationale for restricting gas exports (to quote Liveris’s oral testimony) is that when gas is not exported but instead is used to manufacture products, it creates “eight times the value” across the entire economy. That claim derives from a Charles River Associates (CRA) study sponsored by – drum roll, please – Dow. According to CRA, using gas as a manufacturing input trounces gas exports in terms of job creation, GDP growth, and trade-deficit reduction. Therefore, AEA argues, Congress and/or the Department of Energy (DOE) should constrain LNG exports in the “public interest.” AEA also warns that higher gas prices from increased overseas demand could destroy tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and kill the U.S. manufacturing renaissance. AEA claims it is not opposed to all LNG exports, it just wants a “balanced” approach.
Economist Craig Pirrong (a.k.a. the “Streetwise Professor“) deftly pops this rhetorical balloon:
I am adding a new entry to my list of phrases that put me on guard that someone is trying to con me: “balanced approach.”. . . . In Obamaland, “balanced approaches” mean large tax increases now, and hazy promises of spending cuts in some distant future. In Liveris’s oped, “balanced” means imposing restrictions on exports of natural gas to lower the cost of his most important input. Funny, ain’t it, that things seem to tip the way of those advocating “balanced approaches”? In other words, if it helps me, it’s fair and balanced!
The whole thing is galling. Even if Liveris were correct and gas turned into chemicals generates “eight times” the economic value of gas sold abroad, such third-party assessments should have no bearing on how companies dispose of their own property. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry points out, AEA companies did not invest a dime to develop fracking and horizontal drilling technology, construct the wells, or hire the rig workers, yet they presume to decide what happens to the gas after it’s extracted from miles under the Earth. Not unlike the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, AEA’s implicit premise is that central planners have the right, nay the duty, to commandeer private property whenever the resource would add more value in someone else’s hands.
But do Liveris and AEA really believe the rationale they’re pushing, or only when it cuts in their favor? Here’s an easy way to tell. Dow, Alcoa, Eastman, Huntsman, and Nucor primarily manufacture intermediate goods, not final goods. As natural gas is an input to them, so their products are inputs to still other companies. AEA-produced chemicals, plastics, electronic components, aluminum, and steel reach the consumer only after other manufacturers “add value” by turning those “feed stocks” into paints, cosmetics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, computers, cell phones, automobiles, and so on.
So by AEA’s logic, the government should restrict exports of chemicals, aluminum, and steel to hold down domestic prices and make U.S. manufacturers of final goods more competitive. The “public interest” demands it! I’ll bet my salary against Liveris’s that he will never, ever agree that sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. [click to continue…]