Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blaming Industry For Stupid Political Decisions


With all of the concern about global warming and using fossil fuels for transportation and power generation, it seems that the fingers are now pointing toward "big business" again as the evil manipulators of the marketplace who are taking advantage of world energy needs by "gouging" us at the pump and creating brownouts.

Well, before the Nancy Pelosis of the world get on their soap boxes, maybe they ought to recall who has been obstructing oil exploration in the U.S., who has been preventing new refineries from being built, and who has been denying permission for new nuclear power plants.

I've written many times about France being right about their energy policy and how the U.S. has been short-sighted and driven by special interest anti-development groups (search blog for France and Nuclear Power). Yesterday, Econobrower ran a post titled "Gasoline prices surge: Thinking about Some Causes." It concluded that:

One bit of policy analysis. The Washington Post article quotes the assertion that the wide spreads are due to policy inaction over the past six years. There is indeed a temptation to ascribe the wide spreads to cartelization, or opportunistic shutdowns of refineries (and I won't rule either of those out -- remember Enron and California in '00-'01...). However, high spreads are also consistent with the view that there is no coordinated reduction of supply and the view that if conservation had been encouraged over the past six years (instead of tax breaks for SUVs), the spread would be smaller. That's because theory predicts that the greater and more inelastic the demand, the greater the resulting price-cost margin.
I went somewhat ballistic over that. First of all, the past six year is the period when cancer has spread to the brain. 3 or 4 decades ago, the cancer began with government acquiescing to anti-oil, anti-nuclear power activists and effectively causing the energy crisis we are facing today. I commented in Econobrowser:

While I agree that government incentives to business in the form of tax breaks for GT 6000 lb. GVW vehicles may have increased some purchases of larger vehicles, I would guess that is relatively unimportant in the imbalance equation.

My "ranting" [previous comment] was purposeful: to point out that whether the meddling was from the government or special interest groups, the effect was the same... reduced domestic oil exploration and refinery capacity. This is exactly the same problem we are facing with regard to generating electricity over the next 2 decades.

Had the "marketplace" been allowed to run its course, the U.S. would have been more likely to find itself in France's position of electric power surplus which could have been used to provide cheap "fuel" for hybrid vehicles. Meanwhile the oil industry would have responded with more wells and refinery capacity to respond to that competitive challenge. We would not be facing activist-induced "price gouging" which is nothing more that the medicine we get for making stupid decisions in the past.

Regardless, with greater oil and electricity capacity, our present options would be much greater. We wouldn't have to ruin the corn market with subsidies to produce ethanol which is only 75% as fuel effective per gallon as gasoline. We would have the electricity capacity to have a massive push toward hydrogen "powered" cars (hydrogen really being a storage medium that requires large amounts of electricity to produce).

You are correct that stupid incentives to buy SUVs when they were not legitimately needed for business contributed to the gasoline shortfall... but that is not the underlying cause of the situation.


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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)