Non Fiction

Sarah F. Gold, Emily Chernoweth, and Jeff Zaleski

The Publishers Weekly 5/26/2003, Vol. 250, Issue 21

Power Play: The Fight for Control of the World's Electricity, Sharon Beder, New Press, $25.95 (416p)

Australian scholar Beder has heard free market advocates argue that government control works against economic efficiency. She's also seen them campaign to deregulate the electrical power industry, promising lower costs, better management and harder-working employees. Still, after assembling evidence of the outcome of deregulating electricity markets in different settings, she's skeptical. For instance, California, which began deregulating its electricity market after a 1996 liberalization of its energy law, saw its politicians, industrialists, environmentalists and consumers united to support a program they believed would lower the price of power and bring the state publicity as a pioneer. The program did receive news coverage, but it was for blackouts, skyrocketing energy prices and possible fraud. The state paid dearly; one study estimated the 1996 deregulation law will cost Californians approximately $71 billion. Going beyond tales of duped industries and Enron's profiteering schemes in California, Beder meticulously documents the worldwide push by energy companies, developers and international bankers to proclaim the benefits of deregulated electricity markets, whereas, she indicates forcefully, disastrous effects in Brazil should be enough to challenge their credibility. As Beder catalogues lost jobs, rising prices and declining service, yet finds large profits going to private developers and power companies, she becomes convinced recent experiments in deregulation of electricity have been nothing more than a confidence trick. Beder's blistering indictment of the wealth transfer from the public to private industry (under the guise of achieving economic efficiency) powerfully urges readers to prevent such abuse of public trust in the future. (Aug. 21)

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