More of the Same, for a Change!

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All of the candidates prattle on about "change." The "change" they propose, however, is to do more of the same.

This was well illustrated in a recent speech in California by Senator John McCain. He proposed (if elected) to give 300 million to the developer of a superior automobile battery, rendering unnecessary the current mish-mash of hybrids, semi-hybrids, plug-in electrics, etc. He said that the 300 million was "a small price to pay" for such a development.

Well, he would say that: HE wasn’t paying it. In typical political fashion, he was being generous with other people’s money, and without asking their permission or advice before offering it.

McCain would also give automakers a 5000 tax credit for every car they built and sold with "zero-carbon emissions." He would increase fines for auto manufacturers who evade existing fuel-efficiency standards, and hold out incentives for greater use of alcohol-based fuels. And, as if he hadn’t said enough, he would increase government regulation of energy traders, whose speculations he blamed, at least in part, for the skyrocketing price of oil.

Wow! Something for everybody! Where to begin in analyzing this series of proposals and threats?

Well, for one thing, there are some contradictions. For instance, the senator decried the present mixture of hybrids and natural-gas cars, with different incentives, as " — the handiwork of lobbyists, with all the inconsistency and irrationality that involves." Would we be unreasonable to assume that, if the senator were elected and implemented his plan, Washington would be awash with lobbyists for battery manufacturers, and their suppliers? And is it not "irrational" to offer incentives (dare we call them bribes?) to battery manufacturers, while ignoring the development of hydrogen-fueled cars? What about cars driven by compressed air, or solar energy, or fuels as yet unimagined? Why single out a single energy source? And, come to think of it, what business is it of government anyway?

And speaking of government, since when does the president reward some and punish others? Does he propose to do this lawfully? Then lawmakers — Congress — would be involved, and the president is not one of them. Unless we plan to abandon the term "president" and simply acknowledge an emperor, or king, ruling by fiat, there is no procedure by which a president can bring about such changes.

McCain’s remarks were triggered by the escalating price of gasoline. The price of gasoline is high in terms of today’s fiat, but is that the fault of oil companies? Using the Consumer Price Index, we find that gasoline at nearly 4.00/gallon today compares with gasoline at 40 cents/gallon in 1949. (I picked 1949 because that was the year I got my drivers’ license.) Today, a bag of "junk silver" coins (silver coins without numismatic value) with a face value of $250 costs 3350. At that rate, a gallon of gas, costing 4.00/gallon, would cost about 30 cents, if our silver coinage hadn’t been taken away from us. And let’s not forget that a significant portion of that 4.00/gallon is state and federal taxes, which have increased since we could buy gas with silver. If the good senator is concerned about the high price of gasoline, let him look to the root of the problem: the Federal Reserve and its policies. Is he likely to do that? No, it’s easier to inveigh against speculators, who are merely making rational investment decisions based on existing conditions that they did not create.

The senator’s inducements to develop a "clean car" could, undoubtedly, lead to an automobile with zero emissions. Wonderful! But, if that car were battery powered, what about emissions from the factories producing the batteries? What kind of mining might be needed to get the raw materials for such batteries? Would the batteries yield less electrical energy than that required to manufacture them? There is a "law" of unintended consequences. Rather than rush headlong in a particular direction, which might yield catastrophic side effects, wouldn’t it be wiser to let the development of alternative energy sources be gradual, unforced, and diverse?

It’s the same old story. If there’s a problem, magnify it. If there isn’t, create one. Then throw money at it, creating political allies. It worked with the military-industrial complex, and it’s working with the medical-industrial complex, and it will work with the environment-industrial complex.

So what’s new? Where’s the change?

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.

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