Thursday, June 19, 2008

What If the Post Office Supplied Our Gasoline?

That's a question that at least some Congressional Democrats answer with enthusiastic affirmation.

Per Fox News, Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said that government control of refineries would lead to a more reliable flow of oil.

Like VA hospitals deliver more reliable health care.

We find ourselves really disturbed by this development. Not because we think it has even a ghost of a chance of ever becoming reality, but because we can't believe that in this day and age even a Democrat would think that a socialistic solution to a supply problem was any solution at all. It's so stupid, we can't even slyly rejoice that if the Ds run on this nonsense, they'll take a thrashing in November.

For those who lack the historical perspective, we urge consideration of the recent history of Western Europe, not even the Eastern European Communist bloc. Western Europe's experimentation with state-owned industries came to an end over the last 25 years, as the old government-owned steel mills, refineries, telephone companies and railroads were sold off to shareholders, began competing, and suddenly created more, cheaper goods and services, more decent jobs, tax revenue and economic growth.

Back to the politics: it'll be interesting to see the explanations that come out tomorrow for these remarks, as in "What Congressman Hoyer meant was [followed by something other than what he said today]."


Guy named Courtney said...

Hmm, government regulation...well I went into the VA per the army 2 weeks ago to get my knee checked out from an injury that I recieved during this last deployment. All they did was a blood draw and schedule another appointment...july 8th, oh the joys of government regulation!

Anonymous said...

Actually, VA hospitals have been shown to provide excellent care.

The government isn't necessarily a bad provider of services just because you choose to have a political orientation that prefers it not to provide services.

Bryan D said...

This is completely an utterly insane.

This is a capitalist problem requiring a capitalistic response. Firstly, sort the supply issue before demand slackens. Secondly, realize that oil speculation and an inflated oil market is in no one's best interest. It's not a quick buck, it's a sure way to drive the economy into the gutter.

And can we please work this out before I wind up back on the warm side of the Atlantic? I would really rather not have to buy a hybrid.

And re: anonymus

I'll take the word of countless vets who have experienced VA service for the worst over a url with a ".gov" extension. That's like UK government surveys always finding that the NHS works perfectly, it just needs twice as much funding.

And yes, the government is necessarily a poor provider of services because it lacks self interest in said provision and does not experience competition which leads to an inefficient bureaucratic Kraken devouring all who chance fall into its maelstrom.

So if by the insipid phrase 'choose to have a political orientation' (side note: Isn't it interesting that political orientations may be chosen while sexual orientations are supposedly inherent?) you mean 'have a bit of sense and no desire to become the economic embodiment of the Marquis de Sade', then you are quite right. For the reasons making the government a necessarily poor provider of goods and services are quite unrelated to the fact that persons such as SWNID are, almost as inherently and necessarily, right.

But I'm just cranky because it\s late and I don't fancy the prospect of making ludicrous bank payments for a slow car which throws into question both my sexual and political orientation while still paying too much for gas.

Anonymous said...

I'm game for Venezuela! (We were talking about that country right?) When did Hugo Chavez become a Democrat?

Christian Penrod said...

I don't know, I'm pretty amazed at how inexpensive postal services are. It's usually cheaper for me to mail a package USPS than one of the other companies. Seriously. Aren't they still losing money on every piece of mail? Their loss is my gain.

Plus, if the Post Office supplied our gas, it could be delivered to my house. I can be even lazier.

Jim Shoes said...

CP, the PO is cheaper than FedEx because by law they have to be. As a condition of compromising the constitutional monopoly on mail delivery, other carriers cannot charge less than a set percentage above PO rates.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...


We'll believe all the reports about the excellent care in VA hospitals when we hear about members of the non-veteran public asking their private health insurer to allow them to be treated in the marvelous VA system.

Since you probably don't read this blog much, we'll bore our gentle readers by testifying again that we spent some time in a marvelous country with a well-developed government-run healthcare system. It was great as long as we stayed healthy. The UK has had 60 years to get government healthcare right, and there's not a Yank we know who's lived in the Old Country and prefers their system to ours.

But back to oil: if government control of key industries is so great, why has virtually every country that has tried it given it up (exceptions: brutal dictatorships)? Why have those countries that have given it up experienced marvelous improvements in their standards of living?

And someone please explain to me how stupid or dishonest a politician has to be to keep suggesting this nonsense.

BTW, Anon, we "choose" our political (really economic) orientation to be empirical. Capitalism harnesses human greed for the common good. Historically it hasn't been beat or even tied.

Pat said...

Picking on the post office in this post is actually incredibly unfair to the post office.

When you factor price into the equation the post office is an amazing organization.

My father-in-law is one of the top directors for FedEx and he studied the post office and came to the conclusion that (again considering the price point) they really are the best point to point delivery system on earth.

They've been looking to various strategies the post office uses to improve their own services.

And likewise the post office has been quick to partner with companies like FedEx and UPS to create synergistic relationships that leverage the strengths of both organizations.

Really and truly if our government could figure out how to deliver oil or health care as well as the post office delivers mail you'd get down on your knees and praise Jesus for a relatively efficient and exremely low cost solution.

Anyways, I didn't mean for that to be an apology for the post office, just saying, they're pretty good at what they do.

Christine said...

Leaving the post office out of this for the moment, the one and only advantage that the goverment might have is that it would be harder to block new or expanded refineries.

BP recently wanted to expand their refining capacity in NE Indiana but dear Senator Durbin along with a few other politicians pandered to the NIMBY crowd who claimed it might harm Lake Michigan and it was stopped. (Rather than finding a way to expand capacity without adding to the pollution going into the lake.)

Still, I don't think it would be a good tradeoff. As it is, the oil industry is regulated beyond belief. If anything, that's part of the problem. How about the government simply allowing refineries to be built or expanded? No takeover would be required.

David H. Willis said...

One quick point about the VA hospital system. I DO NOT WANT GOVERNMENT HEALTHCARE, but I share an excellent VA experience. My father-in-law's life may have been extended by a doc at the local VA hospital. How? She ran tests (MRI) that no insurance company would've permitted a civilian doc to do given his symptoms. Another civilian doc told my father-in-law that the VA doc probably saved his life. The VA is slow, but they can do some tests, etc. that you won't get "approved" elsewhere.

Pat said...

I don't know how people define slow. I went through a pretty grueling episode in 2007 that took 3 months to resolve because of the waiting lists for specialists.

I have excellent coverage through blue cross/blue shield, but it wasn't enough to speed up the waiting time.

So its not just the VA.

Anonymous said...

capitalism harnesses human greed? really? this would mean capitalism has some sort of restraining function... would would require some sort of moral imperative that a) knows what the common good is, and b) acts in a sentient manner in order to execute this common good. capitalism does this? really? is that what happened during industrialization and the era of the robber barrons? no. government regulation is what harnesses capitalism and makes it even remotely managable. and to bryan.. and others who might agree with this line of reasoning.. why do you assume that just because someone thinks the government may do something good, or serve a valuable purpose, that they are "economic embodiment of the Marquis de Sade" or make other assumptions about their political orientation? is this what you say to all people who disagree with you?

Bryan D said...

There's that 'orientation' word again. I'm thinking of keeping it, actually, because it makes laugh every time I think about it!

Secondly, why must 'a-personal' blogging personalities, chronically disembodied by technological isolation, take everything so personally (even when it does more than strain the reason to do so!) and in turn respond with the same viciousness they presume to be the victims of?

Really, the de Sade reference was due mostly, I think, to the previous introduction of double entendre with the 'orientation' bit. The bit of the metaphor which was meant to be applied to economic policy is the combination of masochism and insanity that the Marquis was so famous for. The point, then, was to say that I would find anyone who desired government control of oil resources and distribution to be either crazy or a glutton for punishment.

As silly as this reference was, it was actually made in an attempt at politeness, for I did not wish to speak the ugly truth that most people would favor such a plan are probably neither, but rather just a bit dim and ignorant to the radical impossibility of such a thing having positive results.

Re: the point, or I shall say comment, about capitalism. The important distinction here is not that capitalism has a mechanism for the control of greed, but that it essentially is a mechanism for the relative control or 'harnessing' of greed. When you think about the ways in which greed normally manifests itself outside of commercial exchange, I think you will see the point at hand here.

Rather than greedy, powerful people just taking whatever they want by sticking sharp pointy things at people who have no sharp pointy things of their own, they trade for what they want in a system which creates wealth much more rapidly and consistently than any other economic system in history. The creation of wealth, yea verily, improves the lives of everyone, not just the most powerful, even if the ratio is sometimes uneven. Whereas philosophies such as Marxism would like ignore or (rather more impossibly) eliminate man's propensity towards greed, indeed the very heart of his sinful humanity, and fail, capitalism recognizes the reality of greed and forces it to work for good, or at least better. The only moral imperative of Capitalism is in fact freedom.

So this is, of course, one of the ways in which capitalism harnesses greed for a greater good. But it also functions thusly on a much broader, more general level. That is, people work harder when they have something to work for which in turn increases efficiency, productivity and innovation. All these things combine to create increasing amounts of disposable income which are reinvested into the system and thus even more wealth is created. This summary is, of course, shockingly basic but also apparently well needed in the present discussion.

But SWNID is an imminently more experienced and knowledgeable economist than I, to his expertise I must yield even though I assume he would say much the same (although with much superior diction and overall grandeur).

From the Land of Adam Smith, adieu.

Pat said...

1. For a Christian (or anyone really) to be so firmly entrenched into the ideals of capitalism that they cannot envision a different world order is a complete failure of imagination and dare I say faith. Particularly if they are firmly entrenched into the hyper-aggressive de-regulated supply side capitalism currently in vogue in America. I personally would trade American's 4%-6% annual GDP in a heartbeat for a more socialist informed European capitalism that has better social safety nets and a 2% GDP in a heartbeat.

2. For opponents of capitalism to pretend that capitalism (and liberal democracy) isn't, and hasn't been, the best thing going on this planet for a few centuries is to be willfully ignorant and cynical about history. (I am frequently guilty of this, but have been trying lately to maintain a better balanced perspective on things.)

3. Anonymous certainly has a point about the role government plays in regulating capitalism and industry, let me quote Hardt and Negri's informed polemic about the role of government in capitalism, from Empire:

"When the proponents of globalization of capital cry out against big government, they are being not only hypocritical but also ungrateful. Where would capital be if it had not put its hands on big government and made it work for centuries in its exclusive interest? And today where would imperial capital be if big government were not big enough to wield the power of life and death over the entire global multitude? Where would capital be without a big government capable of printing money to produce and reproduce a global order that guarantees capitalpower and wealth? Or without the communications networks that expopriate the cooperation of the productive multitude? Every morning when they wake up, capitalists and their representatives across the world...ought to get down on their knees and praise [big government]." (page 349)

I told you it was a polemic! But again from Empire here is a more measured review of how the State and Capital go hand in hand:

"Marx and Engels characterize the state as the executive board that manages the interests of capitalists; by this they mean that although the action of the state will at times contradict the immediate interests of individual capitalists, it will always be in the long-term interest of the collective capitalist, that is the collective subject of social capital as a whole. Competition among capitalists, the reasoning goes, however free, does not guarantee the common good of the collective capitalist, for their immediate egoistic drive for profist is fundamentally myopic [emphasis mine]. The state is required for prudence to mediate the interests of individual capitalists, raising them up in the collective interest of capital. Capitalists will thus all combat the powers of the state even while the state is acting in their own collective interests. This conflict is really a happy, virtuous dialective from the perspective of total global capital."

Now I'm quoting radicalized Marxists and so you'll laugh at me and shout me down with dismissive arguments, but the point remains that Capital is extraordinarily reliant on good government to manage Capital's long term health.

Christine said...


I don't think capitalism harnesses greed so much as self interest. Sometimes self interest is best served by delayed gratification as well as serving others. That is why Americans are some of the most generous people in the world.

Capitalism is not a perfect system (what with all of us being sinners), however, so far there is none better.

The main difference between capitalism and socialism seems to be that capitalism does not deny the human capacity to sin as socialism does. Capitalism relies on reasonable regulation to curb its abuses.

Socialism relies on the idea that humans are perfectable and that our behavior will not change when self interest is replaced with societal interest. We have seen the results over and over again.

I can imagine a world where everyone is happy to work for the greater good without personal gain, however, the experiment has been tried again and again and everyone ends up with a lower standard of living. This is even true of many Christian communities.

Pat said...

Gosh, I really don't want to get into a Capitalism vs Socialism (Marxism) argument.

I'm familiar with the basic tenets of all the -isms we're discussing. I'm just trying to throw gas on Bryan and A-nonymous's conversation.

In my first 2 points about thinking beyond Capitalism, I'm really not thinking about socialism qua socialism. That would be some decidedly backwards thinking!

I'm just trying to suggest that there are alternatives, even if those alternatives are as yet unknown. Hence the use of the words imagine and faith.

Remember, even I think that capitalism is the best thing going.

Now, I'm going back into my hole to read some more of Howard Zinn's children's books

Bryan D said...


Cheers for showing the true colors of your argument. I am not, of course, saying you are a Marxist, but noting that the argument is a Marxist argument is quite useful. You have neatly made yourself the distinction that gets quite messy in any ideological discussion, the distinction between argument and arguer! It makes an intelligent response possible without the respondent being received as a name-caller.

I find your shock at christine's charge of socialism to be quite interesting. Living, as I am (well, I suppose I could be lying), in one of said 'socialist informed' European states, I can testify quite readily, as can SWNID, that said states are not simply restrained capitalism, but out and out socialism. The 'social safety nets' of which you speak are invisible. So invisible, in fact, as to be inoperable. I do not know where this warm and fuzzy idea of European society comes from, but it is not from experience I'll wager.

Socialist democracies in Europe are without exception plummeting towards complete bankruptcy because they cannot pay for the services which they promise to their citizens. For instance, the Scottish government has promised free tuition to all Scots citizens. This is, of course, quite socially responsible by its sound, ostensibly providing educational opportunities to those for whom such a thing was previously impossible. But in reality, when the government is inevitably unable to pay for its policies, the universities suffer meaning they must decrease funding for educational services and eventually drastically reduce the number of students they are able to service in the end. In France's case, most experts give the country somewhere between 15 and 20 years until the system becomes utterly untenable.

Those European states that flourish, like the Gloriously Noble and Free Republic of Ireland, do so because they are becoming more free in their markets (luring capital investment) rather than more restricted and 'socially responsible' states.

I think we all see the usefulness of a government which is able to address monopolies and trusts. But let's note that in these cases the proper response is a capitalistic one (the reinstatement of competition and free trade) to an imperialistic problem. The problem is not actually with capitalism, but with people who are so shortsighted as to be not capitalistic enough (see my previous comments about the idiocy of continued oil speculation)!

Well, Pat, I've applauded you once already but will applaud you twice more before I'm done! Firstly for recognizing the outright and complete supremacy of capitalism among the world's systems of economic policy. The problem with your optimistic and utopian idealism concerning "imagination" and "faith" is that these are merely words which point to nothing productive. The moment at which either of these words become operative by producing an implementable alternative, then and only then will they be proper words with which to criticize capitalism. My faith and imagination lead me to Christ (in the way of Lewis, MacDonald, Milton, Williams, Tolkien, etc.), but his economic imperatives I find to work quite well within capitalism's framework (ie, I get to decide what to do with my excess cash rather than the government deciding for me—and botching it up!).

Lastly I applaud your heroic and inspiring use of html to enhance the overall appeal of your comments. Me likey!

Pat said...

Hey c'mon I can be honest about the fallacies of my argument but you get to be willfully obtuse about the limits and problems of capitalism? That's hardly fair.

Guy named Courtney said...

Yes, well the fair only comes to town once a year...yes, I've been waiting to drop that for a while.

Bryan D said...

For a moment my eyes, or perhaps their partisan operator, fancied that I had witnessed the charge of being "witfully obtuse" which is a title I suppose someone like James Joyce would take up gladly. To be "willfully obtuse" is, of course, a different matter.

I do not believe, however, that anyone, much less this particular blogging personality, is at all unaware of the problems that arise from Capitalism. I, for one, am simply projecting that Capitalism is less problematic the Capitalistic it is. And, to adapt an old SWNIDish saying to my own nefarious ends: "If you don't like paradox, become a Marxist." Of course, if you do so you will then have a much larger problem with a flawed empiricism, economic obsoletism and hypocrisy . . . but I digress.

Pat, the real question you are getting at is not one of Capitalism versus something else. Rather, it is one of the interventionist Keynesian Capitalism and Friedman's consequentialist, libertarian Capitalism—an argument which Friedman has happily won, not in the least because his adversary died long before himself, but also because it just so happens that his system works better!

There, just so we call everything by its proper name.

Now, I believe I shall follow guy named courtney's lead and make use of a phrase which I have been longing to use. For it is, at last, time for me to acquit myself of this conversation and to "get out of Dodge".

Pat said...

Bryan I'm sorry, I thought we were just volleying back and forth. I didn't mean that "willfully obtuse" line with any seriousness, but with a wink and a nod. After all you called me a utopian idealist! ;-)

In all seriousness I hope you'll accept my sincere apology.

Neither of us are going to change our minds, but its always nice, for me, to read your thoughts and understand your positions better.

And you are right, what we're really discussing, in this instance, is Keynes vs Friedman, and we can agree to disagree about it. I appreciate your thoughts regardless.

I'm sure we'll take this thread up again soon.

Bryan D said...

Cheers Pat, no offense taken or apology necessary. This is a gentleman's game and . . . wait a second, how was I coaxed into commenting on this thread again? Drat and double drat. A pox on us all!

Jim Shoes said...

What is it with all of these government-funded studies that prove that government agencies, which have earned their reputations through their lousy service to millions of citizens over generations, are in fact not havens of inefficiency and indifference but secretly the Best Run Organizations in Human History? I suppose that we should expect the government to tell us whether the government is doing a good job, even if we think it's doing a poor job.

I'll say this: I've known a lot of conscientious, hard-working, smart government workers. But they knew that they were constantly fighting the system to do their jobs well. So yes, you can get good service from a VA doctor or nurse or a postal worker. But that's in spite of the system, not because of it. There were noble soldiers in the Red Army, right?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Anon, you equate "harness" with "restrain." They are different in this context. We'd explain, but really, you just need to think about this. And Bryan D has done all the explaining quite nicely.

Pat, your complaints about the failure of faith and imagination to come up with an improvement on capitalism are akin to a Christian Scientist saying that disease is a failure of faith and imagination. Some conditions can't be changed just by faith and imagination, like endemic human evil. Even conversion doesn't make people good enough for something other than a free market economy to serve their needs with efficiency.

The question is essentially a moral one: has one a right to continue to experiment with utopian economic arrangements when there's both very sound theory and very hard and extensive evidence that such experiments will ruin the lives of those who participate in them? Really, that's no real question. The issue is moral and obvious.

The difference between the theory behind capitalism, classically expressed by Smith, and anti-capitalist theories (Marx comes to mind) is that the former is based on observation, the latter on the filthy Northern European Romantic myth that a brilliant man can speculate his way to truth (Marx and Freud were the winners in this contest, though their ideas had no more truth in them than losers like Schopenauer or the theosophists). We can improve capitalism at its margins with further observation, but it's at this point hilariously unlikely that we'll find an improved "alternative" to it, given what we've observed about ourselves over the centuries.

Yet you young whippersnappers keep wanting to try, imagining that people as good and as smart as yourselves can overcome the human condition that so infected your elders. Pardon us while we laugh.