Power to the People w/ Sandeep Vaheesan

Sandeep Vaheesan (@sandeepvaheesan) joins Scott Ferguson on the Superstructure podcast to discuss the still-undecided political significance of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Their conversation focuses on Vaheesan’s article, “The IRA is Still Being Formed: An Episode in America’s Past Contains Important Lessons for How We Move Forward in Greening the Economy,” published recently in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. 

While present left debate about the IRA tends to split over whether the legislation ultimately breaks with or confirms the tenets of neoliberal governance, Vaheesan turns our attention to the ongoing contestation over the bill’s implementation across heterogeneous domains. Vaheesan puts the current struggle into perspective by reflecting on the historical fight surrounding the construction and operation of the Boulder (a.k.a. “Hoover”) Dam. 

In the case of the federal provisioning of the Boulder Dam in the 1920’s, a strong public utility—the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power —was well positioned to control water and power as public goods, despite efforts by the conservative Hoover administration to wholly privatize the process. What is more, the success of this project laid the groundwork for later rural electrification programs under FDR’s New Deal. 

Today, Vaheesan sees similar potential for public control over the IRA’s implementation because the legislation crucially extends investment and production tax credits, which were formerly available only to for-profit entities, to community-controlled public and cooperative electric utilities. For this reason, the meaning and fate of the IRA remains up-for-grabs. Should community-controlled public and cooperative electric utilities seize hold of the IRA’s democratic potentials, Vaheesan suggests, the process stands to build significant capacities for a more expansive Green New Deal. 

Ferguson and Vaheesan close their conversation by considering the social construction of and  disputes about public money in both contemporary and historical contexts. 

Vaheesan is legal director of the Open Markets Institute and author of a forthcoming book titled, Democracy in Power (University of Chicago Press) on the history and future of cooperative and public power in the United States.  

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Photo by Gabriele Holtermann, AMNY

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.

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