Friday, April 22, 2011

You Know He’s Desperate Now

Tibor R. Machan

So President Obama will create a task force to investigate if there might be crimes committed that lead to high gas prices. The operate term is “might.” That is what one says when one has zero evidence but intends to implicate unknown parties and please one's base which is committed to the class warfare idea of economic relations.

Of course gasoline costs a lot. Just look around the world--people are using more of it and the prognosis is they will be using even more in the near future; the places where oil is drilled are in shambles; the American government will not allow any digging where there’s plenty of oil in the USA, and on and on. Speculators, a perfectly decent bunch of people who try to take care of their and their clients’ economic welfare--part of the group of wealth care professionals in the land--will obviously try to buy oil futures now so as to escape the coming even higher prices. This is elementary economics and to be expected of people who choose to be prudent in their lives and economic affairs.

But Mr. Obama seems to want to cash in on it all by revving up the rhetoric of class warfare. Who must be behind rising gas prices? Someone, surely (even while he preaches about shared responsibility when it comes to the enormous debt the government has assumed). So who shall it be this time--Wall Street? The banks? Tea Party Republicans? No, this time it will be speculators, unnamed people who can be conjured up in the minds of people who already do not like business (wealth care) professionals. Mr. Obama needs those who harbor such hatred since they are the ones who hopes will go out and campaign for him. Who else would?

Now do I know that this is Mr. Obama’s intention? No, but I seriously suspect it. Moreover, there is better evidence for this suspicion than for the alleged suspicion Mr. Obama voiced, namely, that corrupt people in the oil industry are committing crimes and driving up gas prices. That, it should be noted, is sheer fantasy, totally baseless.

CNN News Room newsreaders are all for Mr. Obama doing this shadow chasing. What else can they do? Repeat elementary lessons in economics? Do they bring in experts on oil economics? No. That would be responsible journalism and by now we know that CNN gives us partisan news through and through--Mr. Obama can do no wrong and all his pronouncements are sincere, meant earnestly. Even Fox TV gives more room to opposing positions now.

But there is hope. Mr. Obama’s popularity is plummeting. Not because he will not prosecute--or is it persecute--oil people but, most likely, because he will not do the most elementary thing about all this, namely let companies drill, drill, and drill some more. That would lose him another part of his base, environmentalists. Which is to say, Mr. Obama is putting politics and his ambition to get a second term way ahead of the task of addressing the high gas prices, which he seems to be merely pretending to address.

Mr. President, please, pretty please, toss the task force idea and open up our known oils fields and hope the voters will realize you did the best you could. Just as with gold, so with scarce oil, prices will keep rising. But there is little gold to go around, while there is plenty of oil to drill for.

Why are these folks not getting it? I suppose the answer to this is manifold but one source is the late Mancur Olson’s theory that not until the bottom falls out will people and their lobbyists and politicians stop engaging in what economists call rent-seeking, urging that other people be ripped off so they can have an easier way in their lives. And for such a political climate to prevail one needs to come up with accusations against those whom one wishes to be ripped off. This task force idea of Mr. Obama achieves that goal--demonize oil people. Next time he can go back to demonizing Wall Street, the banks and, of course, Tea Party Republicans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pitfalls of Shared Responsibility

Tibor R. Machan

President Barrack Obama asserted in a recent speech dealing with the country’s enormous debt that what the country needs is to live by an ancient principle, namely, “the principle of shared responsibility.” He invoked this in his defense of his championing of the increased extortion of the resources of the wealthy, those who earn $250K or more per year. Why this “principle” should be invoked he didn’t say--he seemed to think it’s obvious.

Frankly the details are not what’s important her--what is is that extortion from rich and poor alike is evil and destructive of the country’s economy. In addition, the idea of unassumed share responsibility for economic mismanagement (either by individuals who ought to care for their household finances or by public officials who ought to care for the country’s economic affairs) is a very harmful one. Shared responsibility applies only where those who are to share have freely volunteered to do so. I am not morally and should not be legally authorized to conscript my neighbors to share the household debts I have assumed for myself in, say, my repeated refinancing of my mortgage.

It is interesting that a good many policy wonks complain when companies dump their waste into the public sphere--the air mass, rivers, lakes, or oceans. And they are right--such dumping is intrusive, a violation of the property rights of those whose sphere has been used without their consent. The idea of sharing the responsibilities assumed by various public officials in the name of the citizenry is no different. Some, very few, public expenses are, of course, the responsibility of all citizens--national defense, maintaining the legal infrastructure of the country, etc. But when public officials spend resources on what they deem to be important projects, such as a bridge in their district or a dam or a school, these are no shared responsibilities by any stretch of the imagination. These are the responsibilities of those individuals who elected to assume them. The rest of us, who have assumed different responsibilities, are not to be imposed upon by making us all share the burdens of fulfilling such responsibilities.

There is an ancient principle that President Obama ought to consider before he imposes responsibilities on those who didn’t consent to assuming them. It is “the tragedy of the commons.” Perhaps the best statement of this principles comes from the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who pointed out that

“[T]hat which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few." (Politics, 1262a30-37)

This principle is widely embraced by environmentalists who realize that when spheres are commonly owned, they fall into neglect. The same holds for shared responsibilities--people tend to assume that others will fulfill them and they do not need to worry. Even more importantly, it is nearly impossible to determine for a huge population in a country such as the USA just what is to be shared and what is not. Is one to share the responsibility for another citizen’s crimes, debts, children, etc.? Why, if you decided not to have any children, must you shoulder the responsibility of supporting them? Why share the debt that others have assumed unless you are a close friend or associate?

No, the idea President Obama floated in his discussion of how to handle the enormous national debt is a nonstarter. And the idea of coercing those making $250K or more to shoulder most of it is obscene. No one is going to pay attention to balancing his or her budget if others will be forced to pay one’s debts. It is also a terrible practice to support by the leader of a supposedly free country in which citizens may not be punished unless they have been shown to have committed a crime.

In fact, all this sharing of responsibility amounts to letting off the hook all those who acted irresponsibly in their finances, private or public.