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A shifting marketplace

Talk about conflicted: What is a free-market disciple to think about the prospect of wind farms?

That’s the discussion I had with Craig Ladwig, editor of Indiana Policy Review, and a decided fence sitter when it comes to wind farms.

For those unfamiliar with IPR, they’re a conservative bunch, but with a decidedly libertarian bent. They don’t much care for economic development incentives, like tax abatements, but they don’t like the state income tax either.

Ladwig references Enlightenment-era thinkers like Locke frequently. The idea that property rights are the basis of English Common Law, and therefore of Western capitalism as we practice it in the United States, is a common thread.

The IPR crew – Ladwig and his cohorts Eric Shansberg, Cecil Bohanon and Andrea Neal – elevate property rights to somewhat of a sacred status, and view any attempt by government to lay hands on said property with deep suspicion.

“I think we worry more about the process – is [a wind farm] paying for itself or not?” Ladwig said recently. “We’ve been subsidizing wind farms for a long time now, and they don’t seem to be paying off in the way they’ve promised.”

There is the concern that government subsidy is never as nimble as free-market forces, that any economic incentive for building wind farms lies in the extra money kicked in by taxpayers.

If we’re going to incentivize something, Ladwig asks, shouldn’t we be looking at solar energy?

“I understand we’re making some real progress on solar cells, to the point where we’re able to build houses that are energy self-sufficient. Why don’t we shift over to that?” he said.

“The problem with wind is with the product. I don’t take any stock in whether they kill eagles or are an eyesore, they just don’t have a good product.”

The farmers who stand to benefit from leases, Ladwig points out, may be the only people involved in a wind farm transaction who are “behaving economically,” which is to say, bartering something of value (leased land rights) for profit.

The wind farm operators, who receive government subsidies from local and federal programs, aren’t observing marketplace principles.

But wind opponents, who oftentimes fail to take into account economic considerations, such as the value to a community in being perceived as open to new capital investment, are also guilty.

Ladwig said he’s pointed some wind farm opponents toward the ideas of free-market economists.

“What we told [opponents] was that if a product makes sense, we live in a country where property rights matter. After we talk to them like that, we usually don’t hear from them again, because they want to go at it by any means necessary.”

Another property

The Kokomo Redevelopment Commission last week acquired another property near downtown, a three-story, red brick building in the 300 block of South Union Street, sitting just across the alley from the Kokomo Auto Supply building, just south of the Wildcat Creek.

At the same meeting, the RDC formally donated the city’s parking lot next to the City Hall gazebo to the city’s Community Development Corp., which is in turn expected to give that property to developer Jeff Broughton.

Broughton plans to build apartments across from City Hall. The city hasn’t said what the plan is for the red brick building on South Union, which was formerly owned by Lee Moore. Last November, the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance purchased the building for $55,000. Tuesday, GKEDA donated the building; the RDC paid nothing for it.