Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Coming Gasoline Crisis Isn't Liberal or Conservative


I recently joined the Facebook group: 1 Million Americans for a $1/1 Gallon Gas Tax ... Save The World, NOW!

And immediately earned the scorn of a couple of friends.

This blog posting is about two problems:

1.: We're hooked on fossil fuel.
2.: Americans are hung-up with partisan idiocy, so much so that simple, good ideas get a bad rap.

Where we are: Americans as a nation are addicted to fossil fuels. Disclaimer: I'm addicted just as badly as everyone else (Man I love horsepower!)

But I'd have to be an idiot not to see that whomever controls the oil-supply has this nation by the balls.

So I did what I thought was a good thing -- I joined a group on Facebook that deals directly with the issue in a good way -- add a dollar tax to gas that will be used to stimulate the business of alternative fuel. Why would I, a rabid capitalist, do something like this?

Because I think this is exactly the kind of function that I think a government should be executing. They shouldn't be running around bailing out auto makers and bankers, essentially socializing our country and rewarding bad behavior -- they should be working on matters of national security in the best way possible. When it comes to fossil fuel, it's come down to an obvious matter of national security. Adding a buck to the cost of a gallon of gas in this context is the opposite of a bail-out -- it's about penalizing energy consumption of fossil fuels to make way for something safer, and in our national interest. What remains to be discussed (other than the idea of the input of the funds) is how long this tax should be in place, and who would get the cash. More on that later.

I've been for this idea for years -- I've said it many times. It's not a popular idea -- no one wants to pay more for gas -- it's going to be somewhat painful. But if you think about it, the alternative to the situation is one where someday down the road we have our productivity grind to a halt because lots of people want cheap gas in the short term.

Do I have any partisan motivations for this behavior? Let's make this official: I'm not a democrat or a republican. I find partisan politics where two sides line up and yell at each other like they're right and everyone else is wrong, stupid and distasteful. I think it's exactly this kind of stupidity that has brought our nation to the brink of disaster over the past few years. It has kept us focused upon fighting two sides of a losing struggle when we, as a collective unit, could have been solving some real problems.

I urge people that think of things like gasoline running out as a liberal or conservative issue to step away from the partisan bong for a couple of minutes, let the smoke clear, and think about what kind of situation their son or daughter is going to be in come the near future. In this near future they're very likely going to be attempting to find gas for their car to get to work -- and it will simply be gone or so ridiculously expensive that they cannot afford it.

Now, some people might want to say "Market Correction" here, and just expect things to work themselves out -- new fuels will emerge at that time, in other words, or possibly there will be an abundance of cheap electric vehicles or hydrogen available. But far more likely, if we don't do some preventative and strategic work to get in the right place, energy-consumption-wise, there will be a huge problem where lots of people are stranded, can't get to work and the economy (worse than now) will land further in the crapper than anyone can imagine.

That's not a fear -- it's a reality with a very highly potential. It's not too late right now to do something smart -- something like raise the tax on gas and stimulate alternative forms of energy distribution as it pertains to automotive transportation.

So, back to the situation where you or your kids can't get to work -- the present excuse "Hey, it was a lot of fun yelling "Liberal", "Tree-Hugger", "Stop helping Big Corporations" and "Redistribute the Wealth" back then -- that excuse isn't likely going to mean a lot to your wife or your kids at the future date and time.

Is the excuse of today going to work, 5, 10, 20 years from now, in other words -- the excuse: "Hey, don't worry about your life coming essentially to a grinding halt -- I did it for the fun of yelling the party line!".

They're going to look at you like an idiot -- because you were listening to people like Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken and Anne Coulter, rather than using your brain to solve problems -- like how the heck are we going to get 'un-addicted' to fossil fuel?

I've had the idea long before this stupid Facebook group (which is worth joining in my not so humble opinion) that we should raise the tax on gas and get with the alternative energy program. Hydrogen, electric cars, solar cars, bio-diesel -- all of these things are potential realities. None of them are going to be cheap when it comes to switching over.

It'd be nice to imagine that these alternative business models are simply going to get traction and come into existence due to the usual market forces. The fact is that in a solution-centric way, oil has a virtual monopoly. It makes it too hard for something competitive to emerge to replace it, in other words. Sure, you are free to chose -- you can always chose not to use gas -- if you rule out the fact that you already own a gasoline consuming car, that most of the fueling stations sell gas, that most of the mechanics know how to work on gasoline-powered vehicles and so on.

I'm simply skeptical given the scale of say, adding a few hundred thousand fueling stations, for starters, that the usual speed of market response will be there when we need it.

Is taxing gas and creating new potentials such as this "re-distributing the wealth" as one person suggests? Not in my opinion -- the item being used, gasoline, is part of the scale of the problem. If we tax the rich people that made huge bucks on the last oil speculation run, and then in turn created these new alternative fuel interests (effectively giving that money to someone else) -- then, yes, I'd agree with the "re-distribution" description of the situation.

But even more to the point -- "Joe the Plumber" is more of a fictional idea around something stupid people want to believe in, than he is real. I know he's a real person -- but the fact is that all of the yelling about what Joe believes is pointless if we run out of oil. The oil isn't going to be on the side of the democrats or republicans -- it's simply a complex chain of polymers, after all, and will have no partisan feelings about being or not being in the conversation.

This is the bottom line -- Being energy secure as a nation is a good idea.

The money for making new business of this magnitude is hard to find -- but we have just been through a huge run-up where people were paying 4 bucks a gallon for fuel. Now it's dropping toward a dollar a gallon and I hear SUV sales are on the rise. Great -- just what the doctor ordered -- more people thinking about the next 10 minutes of joy ride instead of the next 20 years of potential insecurity.

This, in my humble opinion, is exactly why things like government exist -- it's what I'd expect them to do in our national security interest -- find some way to make a dis-incentive for the masses to make the place just a little less dependent (that's sarcasm) on the whims of the folks that control the oil supply (that's mostly people outside of our country these days, in case you've been in a coma for the past 10 or so years).

I urge people to stop looking at everything with stupid, partisan glasses. Resist the urge to say "no way!" because it's a tax, for example. I'm not for a permanent tax here, by the way -- just until a certain level of security is reached. Also, the cash should be carefully controlled by non-partisan interests (read: some kind of democratic, scientific and objective controls for passing out the cash -- not some pork-barrel reward or dole). So, how to determine this threshold? Say when we're 80% dependent upon energy generated inside of the borders of this country. At that point the tax would be repealed.

Back to the partisan end of things -- for example, this idea would potentially create new industry and that's also good for our present situation -- as a rabid capitalist, I think this is a great idea -- more competition in the energy market. That slant on this issue, by me, however, could be cast in a partisan light -- so you don't hear me focus upon it as a reason. Rather, the dire needs of our present energy situation put this in an entirely different light -- one that has to do with our security over the long haul.
-=FeriCyde=-

6 comments:

Sarah Cain said...

I have always had problems with this system of "left" and "right" politics, in which each person ignores free thought to merely support whichever side of a debate their camp leader orders.

All the same, I think that you are missing the point here. The problem is not that we need to invest more money in alternative technologies, for we have known how to make things run on hydrogen for a long time.
The problem is that we have a government which encourages our reliance on fossil fuels, and automakers which use their 'research projects' as excuses to get bailed out by this same government.

FeriCyde said...

Point well taken - I understand the problem with the big-oil lobby interests.

That's one of the reasons I think we need to create new ventures, not necessarily tied to Ford, GM and Chrysler -- They will all have conflicted interests due to the fact that they're selling cars that rely upon fossil fuel and are not going to be motivated to kill a market where they have an interest to preserve the status quo.

James Dixon said...

Paul, I understand why you think this is a good idea. However, the government can't be trusted to do it. They'll do the same thing with the $1/gallon tax they do with every other income stream. Waste it on whatever gets them re-elected this year.

If you want to solve problems like oil dependence, you'll have to find a mechanism other than government.

FeriCyde said...

> Paul, I understand why you think this is a good idea.
> However, the government can't be trusted to do it.
> They'll do the same thing with the $1/gallon tax they do with every other income stream.
> Waste it on whatever gets them re-elected this year.

> If you want to solve problems like oil dependence, you'll have to find a mechanism other than government.

I wish we had a mechanism to tax other than the government in this this context -- unfortunately, trusting the oil companies to unhook a revenue stream isn't exactly easy.

I do, however, completely agree with the gist of what you're saying here -- look at the way they're mis-spending social security and now the "bail-out" cash.

So, here are a couple of ideas: Set some parameters (they will be needed anyway for when to start / stop the tax) in the legislation regarding where the money goes directly. It should go into a trust of some kind that's controlled by a non-partisan think-tank.

On the reward side, I've been thinking about this and something similar to the X-Plane prize is in order (in my humble opinion) -- say 100 million to the first company to produce a fully electric car -- or some other non-gasoline-consuming vehicle as a clearly defined goal. Not just one, but en mass at say 3000 units and sold to the general public.

Reward potentially a first and second prize for that matter. Money that doesn't get spent this way goes back to pumps (it's returned) in a gas-tax refund of some kind.

Make it clear that the tax isn't something permanent -- it's not another stream for the government to get hooked on, it's not for pork, it's not for partisan reward -- it's to make the country safer.

If done as a cash reward for a goal it has the added benefit of making sure that it's not delivered to someone who hasn't performed.

Just some thoughts, but yes, our government has a rather piss-poor track record of spending -- but it's the only institution I can see here that's up for the job.

So, I do have a question for you -- what if the cash was guaranteed to go to the goal as recognized and the tax temporary, not a new stream, etc. What if, in other words, you _could_ trust the government in this context -- how would you feel about the idea then?

--Paul

James Dixon said...

> So, I do have a question for you -- what if the cash was guaranteed to go to the goal as recognized and the tax temporary, not a new stream, etc. What if, in other words, you _could_ trust the government in this context -- how would you feel about the idea then?

If I could trust the government, then yes, I would consider supporting such a tax. I wouldn't guarantee I'd vote for it, but I'd consider it.

However, it's been tried. There's seldom any such thing as a "temporary tax", and as demonstrated by Social Security, et. al. (the list is way to long to cover here, but I'm sure you know most of it), the government never keeps their word.

The problem is that there's no way to force the government to keep their word (save for voting those who don't out, and you can see how well that has worked). Since they get re-elected anyway, there's no penalty for them breaking it.

Until we can solve that problem, trusting the government to do anything is pretty much pointless.

I agree that this is the kind of project that would ideally be funded by a functional government. However, ours hasn't really been functional for over 40 years now. :(

FeriCyde said...

> I agree that this is the kind of project that would ideally be funded by a functional government.
> However, ours hasn't really been functional for over 40 years now. :(

Pieces of it do function, but horribly innefficiently. A lot of it is horribly broken.

And, yes, they do tend to have problems with things that are temporary. We're on the same page there.

So let's do another facebook page -- "1 million people that just want the government to work."

I'll support that one too -- if we get enough people to find some functionality in our government maybe we can come back and fix the energy crisis then -- is that a deal?

In the mean time I'm seriously worried about our energy problems and that's why I will continue to support this cause.

We are screwed, however, either way -- with or without energy, with or without a functional government.

Let's hope they get their s--t together sometime soon. We do have a really good idea for a government, however (it's called "The constitution" -- too damn bad the people in the present administration forgot half of the things written in there).

Cheers,
--Paul