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Energy Policy: No Place for Zero-Sum Thinking

September 2019

Citation: ELR 10847

Author: Inara Scott

In game theory, “zero-sum” means that a person may gain only at the expense of another person losing. Two-person games, such as chess and checkers, exemplify this win/loss dichotomy. Transported to economics, the idea of zero-sum similarly means that one party must lose for another to win. But in broad, multi-faceted policy contexts, such as the evolution of the energy industry in the United States, this winner/loser paradigm is particularly unhelpful and can lead to short-sighted and dangerous consequences. This Article, adapted from Chapter 3 of Beyond Zero-Sum Environmentalism (ELI Press 2019), recommends moving away from the zero-sum analogy to advance energy policies that benefit people across geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural divides, and offers concrete suggestions to ground policy development in a broader, more holistic manner.

Inara Scott is the Gomo Family Professor and Assistant Dean for Teaching and Learning Excellence in the College of Business at Oregon State University.

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