Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gas and hot air

Are gasoline prices too high?  Certainly oil and gas have risen in price quite a bit over the past few years, and politicians waste no time pointing fingers for personal advantage.  However there isn’t much our government can do without making life worse for us, and even less the President can do.

Not that they won’t spend time talking about how they’ll all make life better for us.

      That smell on the nation's highways isn't just car exhaust. It's also the rank odor of political populism, as John McCain and Barack Obama both try to score points with dubious energy ideas.

The unfortunate end result of this is that people believe them, and so they’ll keep talking this way.  They might even act on it, and that wouldn’t be good.  So here’s my proposition, and I hope that this gets out, so pass it on.  Let’s do nothing. Really.  Don’t drive everywhere.  Don’t buy stupid items made from petroleum products that you don’t really need (and since oil is used in most plastics, that’s pretty much everything).  And most of all don’t push your congressmen to do anything about it. 

This isn’t a partisan message.  Republicans are certainly rabid puppies when it comes to public attention and they want to get elected as much as the next politician, and so fall into the trap of assuming that the government should do something whenever the people whine about their lifestyles taking a hit.

      A House Republican leader is lambasting President Bush on his decision not to call Congress back into session to deal with the energy crisis.
      In a legislative update sent to GOP members and staff on Tuesday, Republican House Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) accused "Beijing George" Bush of throwing House Republicans "under the bone-dry bus" on his way to the Olympics in China.

In truth Bush did what he needed to do, or rather all he really has the power to do without creating more wasteful bureaucracy, and that’s remove administrative roadblocks to more domestic oil extraction and production.  The ball is in Congress’ court, and that seems to make them uncomfortable.

Perhaps we could stick it to the oil companies.  After all they’re just charging us more because they’re making huge profits, not because, you know, oil actually costs more right now.  Oh, wait, I guess Obama is already proposing that.

      Making Exxon surrender money that is now falling into its lap would not necessarily affect its longer-term plans or incentives. Indeed, some of Big Oil's "windfall" already will go to the government: The more profit the companies earn, the more corporate income tax they pay. But to add a five-year tax increase on top of that to pay for a one-year gift to voters would, indeed, increase the cost of doing business. That cost would be passed along in forgone investment in new production, lower dividends for pension funds and other shareholders, and higher prices at the pump -- thus socking it to the consumers whom the plan is supposed to help. If oil prices fall, there might be no windfall profits to tax. Then the Obama rebate would have to be paid for through spending cuts, taxes on something else or borrowing.

All and all, like the first article above talks about, is $4 per gallon gas really a bad thing?  It certainly is reversing the American trend of frivolous driving and gas guzzling car purchases, and driving innovation in oil alternatives. 

But legislators' knee-jerk tendencies to want to “fix” everything only makes government bigger and increasing the scope of government power over any sector of the economy will only hurt the economy in the long run. 

I note that one of the driving issues of the campaign is how dissatisfied people are with the way Bush is handling the economy (read the article I’m linking to, it has a good overview of the positions of both candidates).

      One thing is clear: Americans are worried about the economy and aren't pleased with Bush. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found 73 percent disapprove of the president's performance on the economy. That includes 41 percent of Republicans.

So are Republicans angry at Bush because he hasn’t set the government loose on the American economy so that everyone has a government allocated Ford pickup and Toyota Prius in the driveway and artificially set the price of gas down to $1.50 per gallon?  No, of course not.  Republicans are upset with Bush because he’s as spend-happy as any Republican of his generation (that’s what compassionate conservative mean back in 2000).  Despite all the good levers he pulled to pick the economy back up after 9-11, he made it worse by championing large government programs and withholding the veto pen at every turn.  I’m upset with Bush’s roll in the economy not because he’s not doing anything, but primarily because of what he DID do in increasing the government’s roll in people’s life.

So how is McCain, Obama, McCotter or anyone else calling for government action going to make our lives any better?

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