For the past sixty-five million years, give or take an eon or so, one thing you could always count on towards the end of spring was a rise in gasoline prices, which would inevitably start to taper off during late summer as vacation driving gradually diminished. Through 1995, I had yet to meet one person over the age of sixteen years and one day who wasn't fully aware of this particular cycle; when your culture, indeed your very life, revolves around the automobile, the price of fuel is always Topic A, or at least B.

But then, I repeat myself. This first paragraph was copied verbatim from Vent #5, way back in May of 1996, and things haven't changed in the slightest; we haven't learned a thing in five years. In fact, we haven't learned a thing in nearly thirty years; it was October 1973 when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed a five-month embargo on shipments of oil from its member nations to the United States, and with control of world oil prices firmly in hand, OPEC kept tightening the screws, a little bit at a time. The standard American reaction was — is — to overreact, even when OPEC, as it turned out, wasn't quite so solid a cartel as we had been led to believe, and prices for petroleum went on a roller-coaster ride, a ride which continues today.

Under such conditions, politicians are eager to appear to be Doing Something, which explains why Dick Cheney spent so much of his outpatient time this spring heading up a task force to recommend exactly the quids demanded by campaign quos, and just incidentally making menacing noises about yet another Energy Crisis — why, just look at the gas pumps! (If you're in California, wait until the lights come back on and then look at the gas pumps.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the task force's recommendations will do much of anything to ameliorate the Golden State's power problems, which stem from a deeply flawed power-delivery system that's been passed off as the fruits of "deregulation" but in reality is nothing of the sort. I mean, a centralized power-grid operator? How in the name of Mao Zedong is this "deregulated"? If Gray Davis thinks this sort of silliness is going to get him national stature, he'd best think again.

Still, Davis' futility fits in well with the task force's recommendations, which run the gamut from wishful to pathological. Not even the most rabid supporter of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge claims that production from ANWR can possibly supplant all the oil we import from the likes of OPEC. (Besides, there's a certain logic to increasing oil imports — why not use up theirs first?) Proposed federal subsidies here and there will have the usual effect: programs and schemes will be kept on life support that otherwise would have died. And as we should have learned a couple of manufactured "crises" ago, the best thing the government can do is to quit proclaiming priorities and go do something useful for a change — like take the rest of the year off and quit nagging us.

The Vent

#246
23 May 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill