I guess there’s little the fractured Idaho Republican Party can agree on, except maybe that both factions embrace conservative values and oppose socialism. Let’s see about that.

Can we define socialism? There’s probably no agreement on that either, even in the general public. The internet tells me it’s a government or economic system where the means of production are owned or regulated by the government.

This is happening right now in deep Red Idaho. I’ll bet we can, most of us, agree it’s a good thing. We’ll see.

In the last couple years, bitcoin miners got their eye on Idaho. Bitcoin is a digital currency. People trade bitcoins and their value is determined by that marketplace. But mining bitcoins, finding them in the digital domain is a very computer and energy expensive process. If they have a high value, the costs of the mining are worth it. Sounds like pure capitalism, doesn’t it?

Since the computers needed to find bitcoins can be mobile, and the electricity needed to run the computer farms varies in its cost, miners look around for the cheapest rates. The electricity needed isn’t small. The bitcoin mining and transaction verification computing as a whole burned more electricity last winter than many European countries.

Idaho has some of the lowest electricity rates in the US. Thanks to the highly regulated Snake River Dam complex, Idaho Power offers cheap rates to us consumers, including Monsanto and Simplot.

Idaho Power knew the miners would be coming and they watched what happened in other markets. Miners have set up shop in abandoned aluminum factories where the big wires were already in place. Then, when they found a cheaper rate in the next state, they loaded their computers into a small U-Haul and moved down the road. Sometimes they didn’t pay their disconnect fee. Some didn’t even pay their bills at all, declaring bankruptcy.

Can you see how such behavior might dim your lights or shut off your air conditioner?

So, Idaho Power asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to establish a different rate structure and regulations for these players. The PUC took their request under consideration and asked for public input. The bitcoin miners griped. The PUC granted Idaho Power’s request.

I’m going to argue that this is socialism working you, me, and everybody. Don’t think I have any illusions about Idaho Power being a socialist entity. It’s not. Shareholders own the company, and they are the boss. But they recognize the value in the stability of their marketplace, the price of their product.

The socialism occurs because Idaho Power’s actions are regulated by a government entity, the PUC. Our governors appoint the three PUC commissioners, and they rule on these decisions. Now you may consider this “socialism light”, but I would still argue it is a regulatory process that serves the general public good.

There weren’t regulations when miners flocked to Idaho in the 1800’s looking for gold. The dredged rivers and streams, the hydraulic eroded hills, the displaced tribes are a testament to that. Ghost towns are not just history. Idaho has been a boom-and-bust state for a long time. It’s time we moved into the 21st century.

Maybe you want to go back to those good old days. Maybe you believe the digital bitcoins are just as real as the flecks of gold in the sluice box. Maybe you think the disruption to our power supply would be worth a small lower cost for your digital currency.

I don’t.

I value the stability, the predictability of my power bill and the juice in the wires. And I’m willing to tolerate a bit of socialism to make that happen. I don’t think it’s evil. Indeed, such structures “promote the general welfare” as our Constitutional framers allowed. And they couldn’t have envisioned a computer looking for an imaginary coin. But they could imagine “domestic tranquility”. Do we share that value?

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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