Tuesday, July 08, 2008

We Feel Your Pain… But: An Examination of a Courant Editorial

The Courant editorial is called “Have Another Drink,” and it draws a parallel between the consumption of alcohol and gas.

And what’s wrong with that?

The suggestion is that those who drive cars are addicted to gas in the same sense that drunks are addicted to alcohol. There are some differences: Alcohol is not a necessity, except for those who have fallen into the bottle, and gasoline, a by product of oil, is a necessity, pending the invention and mass production and availability of cars that run on air, water or fairy dust.

The premise of the editorial is that alternative transportation sources are not likely to be developed in the absence of some need. Gas at $14 a gallon, (the price in Ireland and much of Europe) to pick a random figure, is likely to produce such a need. Therefore, any attempt to lower gas prices to a level that decreases the pain of shelling out $14 for a gallon of it would be, as the progressives say, not in the public interest.

Got a problem with that?

Well, yes. The strategy may end up creating an intolerable pain, not a need. This is the kind of thing that produces revisionist backlashes. Here is the Courant’s narrative: 1) Public transportation is better than private transportation because it is less polluting; 2) if you provide public transportation, people will take advantage of it. Build it and they will come; 3) so long as gas is abundant and cheap, there is no need to develop alternative transportation sources; 4) such sources – rail lines, for instance, that will carry people to and from work in urban areas, so as to avoid Hellish sprawl – are highly desirable for a whole host of reasons we have addressed sufficiently in other editorials. Please review them, and pay attention; 5) these resources cannot be developed so long as people rest comfortably in their usual ruts; 6) soaring gas prices ignite the kind of progress we like; 7) therefore, high gas prices should be a reason for celebration, not cause of lamentation.

Into this narrative now come troglodyte tax-axing Republicans.

The Republican Party in Connecticut has proposed ameliorating the pain felt by nutmeggers caught in the gas vise by capping the wholesale price of gas at $3.40 a gallon, well below the European ceiling. While this measure may not prevent evil gas companies from raising the price of gas further, it will prevent the evil state from hauling in more tax money as the price increases.

The Courant has responded to this measure with a hearty guffaw.

“Pardon us for being skeptical,” the paper says. The Courant doubts the tax cut will be passed on to the tax consumer. Any tax cut, the paper asserts, will deplete “transportation improvement funds.”

Actually, the proposed measure is not a tax cut; it is a measure that will thwart further tax increases as the price of gas rises, not quite the same thing. The paper’s supposition that the so called “tax cut” will deplete “transportation improvement funds” is grounded in a false premise. The tax Republicans want to cap flows into the general fund. There is in Connecticut no tax fund dedicated to transportation improvements.

Even if scoundrelly Republicans are successful in their effort to prevent state government from feasting off the misery of the people, the state itself could dedicate more money from the general fund to finance the Courant’s vision. That, of course would blow a hole in the state budget that could be filled if the Courant would agitate among tax consumers, mostly public employees, to make real sacrifices for the sake of rail transit and Connecticut’s bright future as seen from the rose colored windows of the Courant’s home office, which has not yet been vacated and put on the selling block by its new owner, real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Pardon us for being skeptical.

2 comments:

Kirk Sinclair said...

I can see from your blogroll that you are interested in the free market. There is a hypocrisy at work in that none of the major energy sources, currently or in the past, got much of a foothold without the command of government. Here's a little illustration. The Interstate Highway System, built by government and funded by taxpayers, commands investors to choose oil over other energy options. To equal out this government command of the economy you would need to do something comparable to government lining the whole Interstate system with solar panels. I'm not advocating that, just trying to take away the blind spot people have. You choose a free market, in which case the various commands by government that favor oil investment over other energy sectors (Highway system, assumptions of risks, use of government resources below market costs or for free, lowest tax rates on capital assets of any industries, etc.) must be reduced or neutralized. Or you choose to maintain a command economy that steers people to choose and invest in oil over other options. I belong to no political party and do not like ideologue branding. I'm simply middle class. And this middle class person has the courage to face the changes in lifestyle that would result from moving away from a command economy that benefits oil.

The biggest threat to free markets, by definition, is not government inefficiency or hindrances, but government command. In this age of misinformation, spearheaded by corporate media, we each need to dig deep to discover our true masters.

Don Pesci said...

Kirk,

I find no fault with anything you’ve said here, and agree – to a point. The federal government facilitated the construction of the highway system because major roads do not end at the borders of each state. So, in this case, some intervention by the feds was necessary. It is mostly a question of degree and timing. The federal highway system was built over a long period of time; indeed, here in Connecticut, close to where I live, part of a highway that was to be constructed several decades ago remains incomplete. The opposition from environmentalists and home owners, who have in the meantime settled in areas sketched in the original plan, as obstructed the completion of that road. If we are to move from the use of gas to some other more environmentally friendly fuel, the change must not be abrupt; which is to say, it must occur without severe dislocations to the economy, an organic construct. This cannot be done unless those who are to effect the change have sufficient profits to make the change. You cannot both restrict development and expect development – a point sometimes lost on those who want rapid top down change.

Thanks for your input, and good luck to you.

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