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Willisms

« Quotational Therapy: Part 94 -- Teddy Roosevelt, On Immigration. | WILLisms.com | Sunday Night Heidi Weimaraner Puppy Update: 16½ Weeks Old. »

Pundit Roundtable

Hello everyone! Welcome the PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE, our irregular (of late) expounding on the issues. I am your host, Ken McCracken. Here are our topics for this week:

Topic 1: How did we get into this mess of high gas prices? What is the solution? Give us your plan for getting gasoline to under $2 a gallon.

Topic 2: You have the power of life or death over any two figures from history. You may condemn one to an early death, and save one from their fated demise. Who do you choose and why?

I am pleased to introduce our new guest to the Roundtable, David Anderson of In Search of Utopia. What are your thoughts on this, David?

" I don't claim to be an expert on this one, but I believe there are several factors having an impact on prices at the pump, one is high taxes, from what I understand, taxes represent somewhere around 20 percent of the overall cost of a gallon of gas. I don't know how effectively those tax dollars are being spent, but it needs to be looked at, since government is notorious for wasting our money. Next, I believe the war in Iraq, threats of war with Iran and general instability in the Middle East are also contributing to the problem. Our issues with the Strongman in Chief in Venezuela are also an issue, since the petrol reserves there could go a long way to alleviating the problem. I don't really have a solution other than to suggest our government needs to focus more on long term solutions and energy independence. I tend to be a bit more libertarian when it comes to free market issues. Americans need to learn to conserve more, or not whine about the price. According to the statistics I have read, Oil Companies are making about 4.5% profit on each gallon of gas sold. Looking at it in those terms, I would say that the true gouging going on is from Government.

Topic 2: There are so many easy choices in answering this question. Who could argue against Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao or any number of other sociopath leaders for the early check out. On the other side, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, yada yada, are also easy choices. My first inclination is to choose Hitler for an early death, but despite the atrocities of his regime, many advances in science may have been delayed if not for the Nazi regime. The Space program and all it begot, can be traced back to German experiments in Rocketry for example. In looking at others like Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot, they have no such legacy. I would go with Stalin simply because the barbarism of his regime matched that of the Third Reich, and the effects of Stalinism lasted much longer. Again, it was a hard choice. As for who I would save, again my first inclination would be Martin Luther King, whom I knew as a child and who did the most for African Americans, but I will go with JFK. I believe that Kennedy was a visionary, someone who had a vision for a greater America, and had he lived and won a second term, I am convinced that this country would have benefited tremendously. We were on the verge of an extraordinary period of political enlightenment in this country, and since Kennedy we have not had a single President, except for Reagan who could inspire us the way JFK did. While my memories of JFK are more than likely somewhat jaded by his legend, I know enough of his Presidency and his vision for America, to believe that if it succeeded, we would have become a greater nation as a result.

Now let's welcome back Roundtable stalwart Jay Tea of Wizbang. Jay Tea?

"It's a simple matter of applied economics, the laws of supply and demand.Demand has increased dramatically in the last few years, while supply has pretty much stagnated. Refinery capacity is nearly maxed, and capacity has not changed in some time. Also, legislative "tweaking" with gasoline formulations, creating various requirements for different blends (I think there are seventeen different formulations for gasoline around the nation) has led to synthetic shortfalls, as producers simply can't shuffle stocksaround the nation to balance out variable demand.

And let us never forget that China and India are increasing their demand for oil at an incredible rate, buying up more and more oil.

I don't see a short-term solution to high gas prices. I wonder if there is a mid-term solution. And I fear if we have the national will and resolve to find a long-term solution.

Topic 2: I have read a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction, and time travel is a very common theme. And I'm a big believer in "The Butterfly Effect," despite what Ashton Kutcher's movie did to the notion.

In the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" episode "The Wish," one character wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. The result is horrific, with the town being overrun with vampires and several of the main characters dead or made into vampires. In the climactic fight, we see the surviving heroes die valiantly, one by one, until one attempts to smash the artifact that granted the wish, to undo it. The wish-granter challenges him, asking "what makes you so sure the other reality is any better?" He answers, "Because it has to be," and shatters it, undoing the wish.

I don't think that is the case here. I don't think the world is so bad that altering a single aspect of our past would guarantee an improvement. The world today is the sum of all our history, for good or ill, and I would be loath to tamper with it.

The classical example is Adolf Hitler. Let's get rid of him. How might that make things worse today?

With no Hitler, Germany continues to limp along through the depression, still burdened by the crippling results of the Treaty of Versailles. And the Soviet Union, feeling expansionist, starts slowly swallowing up Eastern Europe.

In the Pacific, without Germany drawing the West's attention, Japan's aggression is more keenly watched -- and checked short of war. Since England, France, and the rest of western Europe are not threatened on her doorstop, they far more rigorously protect their colonies and interests. Pearl Harbor is averted.

And without Pearl Harbor to kick the United States into a global war, the depression putters along as FDR's programs still continue, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Eventually, the threat of the Soviet Union will be too great for the West to ignore. However, by this time, there has been no massive mobilization of military might from America. We never built "the arsenal of democracy" that won World War II and, eventually, the Cold War. And without Einstein and several other refugees that fled Nazi Germany, along with the imminent threat of a Nazi bomb, we never developed nuclear weapons. The United States never becomes a superpower, and never amasses the might to check the march of Communism.

By 1950, much of Europe is Communist. The Soviets are looking at Asia and the Middle East. Even Latin America is not off-limits. The United States is finally starting to militarize, but there is no Pearl Harbor, no triggering event that brings war to reality to all Americans. Indeed, some even want to welcome Communism, seeing in it some possible relief to the economic woes that are still troubling us.

So, in a nutshell, I would not tamper in the least with history. I do not believe that things today are so bad that they cannot be made worse -- and I have no interest at all in being proven right.

I am also pleased to announce another Roundtable newcomer, Jay of Accidental Verbosity. Welcome, what do you think?

"People like simple, knee jerk, catch phrase explanations for things, so that is what we hear a lot of on the dramatic recent gas price increases. Pick the right one and you might even win some votes, but that doesn't make you less wrong, or at least unrealistically pat.

The current price behavior is an unfortunate, yet perhaps overdue, confluence of many factors. There's geopolitical forces. It's oil; there's always geopolitical forces. There's the economic growth and therefore increased demand in places like China, but do we really want to go backward and lose the other benefits? There are the forces of environmentalism, NIMBY and regulation. Thus the lack of refining capacity, lack of new nuclear power in the overall mix - none of this exists in a vacuum, lack of new drilling in this country - for what that's worth, given the fungibile nature of oil, seasonal and other blend requirements that make production more expensive and disrupt already tight refining capacity, and fundamental, seasonally variable supply and demand.

The best thing anyone could do for gas prices is to get out of the way. Let economics work. High prices give incentive to develop new sources of oil, as well as alternatives that might reduce the extent to which we depend on same. People will act to conserve, or if they don't then the price isn't so excessive after all. Companies will act to chase revenue and profits available at these prices that might not be at lower prices, and in so doing are likely to make the cost of alternatives or more efficient extraction methods fall.

There seems to be a high income punditry class trumpeting how low gas prices are in historical terms, and they are right. However, your average person has trouble appreciating that long term trend when the price rockets up so quickly. It's as if milk went up another 75 cents in the course of a few months; of course we'd all complain. This is "milk" we buy five, ten, twenty, thirty gallons a week, as opposed to a gallon or two. It really does hurt.

The mistake is rushing to do something political about that pain. We'll adjust. We'll pursue ways to save - or not - and the signals from that will ripple through the economy to reflect in prices and availability. To the extent that we can have an influence given the politicization and regulation of oil, and energy generally.

Where the spike toward $3 was rapid, any fallback to $2 and under will be slow. How long to get that many people driving higher mileage cars? How long to slay the NIMBY Monster and build more refineries? How long to persuade congresscritters to encourage new nuclear, encourage new drilling, etc.- or at least back off of preventing or slowing same.

My plan? Get out of the way and let the economy work. Ultimately this works even if we do nothing to change the nutjob governments in key oil producing countries. Fungibility: Know it, love it.

Topic 2: This is tougher than it sounds, and one of my answers sums that up in one person. My knee jerk thought on who to condemn, partly on the idea so many people would find it a controversial choice, was Lincoln.

I rapidly changed my mind and decided Lincoln was the most logical choice off the top of my head for saving, on the idea he'd done all the harm he was going to do, but was killed before he could do all the followup good we needed. His life may have been about the Civil War, expansion of federal power, and a near dictatorial Presidency, but the founders made that conflict almost inevitable, under someone, by what they had to do and gloss over to make the Constitution happen at all. Even if the muddy status of slavery couldn't be handled, was it really a show stopper to leave the right of states to leave the union implicit rather than explicit? Some tell me it absolutely was.

After the war, things went awry due to the loss of Lincoln, so taking the war we had instead of the war we might imagine could have happened (or not), keep Lincoln alive for the cleanup. That probably makes for a smoother reconstruction and integration of former slaves, and blacks in general, into ordinary society. Imagine no segregation in the 20th century, no need for the civil rights movement, and arguably no need for programs like affirmative action to keep the races disparate. LBJ is on my short list of kill targets, but if we spare Lincoln, perhaps we lose some of the damage of LBJ's war on poverty. So perhaps LBJ can live, if Lincoln does. The ripples go far.

The toughest question of all is who to kill, because there are just too many. Do I go with someone obvious, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Jimmy Carter? Maybe whoever is responsible for giving up Cuba? (Who is that, anyway? Help me, history buffs, you're my only hope.) LBJ? Not if Lincoln lives. John Maynard Keynes? Imagine, no famed "we're all Keynesians now" quote from Ronald Reagan (who is decidedly not on my short list). As I write this, I lean strongly in JMK's direction, but if we're gunning for "economists," why not Marx? Heck, that's like taking a scythe to multiple follow-ons at once. I could suggest an early demise for Jesus Christ and make the Christians feel persecuted. Oh wait, they already do! Plus if we're being mean enough to suggest that, why not that Paul dude who got it past the mere cult stage. Or I could invite a denial of service attack by suggesting a certain crazy Arab before he can impose his hallucinations on the world. FDR? But like Lincoln, he is a mixed bag of deepest evil and decisive good, and unlike Lincoln he got to live to do the best of the good.

Augh! Can't. Make. Up. My. Mind.

Aw, what the heck. It's obvious, but let's go with Karl Marx. Let the folks with dictatorial impulses find another ostensible muse to justify themselves rather than merely being what they are. Imagine a twentieth century without Marx looming over it like the father of nightmares.

The Host's Last Word: We have a stark and difficult choice when it comes to fuel prices: we can either have heightened tensions in the middle east and troops posted in Iraq, or we can have cheap oil prices.

We can't have both.

The ongoing insurgency in Iraq, and the defiant Iranian mullahs have done more to put fear into the markets than anything else, driving up the price of oil. Alternative fuels, fuel taxes, refining capacity and so on are issues that only come into sharp focus when oil prices spike.

Thus, the best way to reduce oil costs is to appease Iran. Let their nuclear program become a fait accompli and blame Russian and Chinese intransigence for failing to impose sanctions or military action.

The question is, will there be a higher cost to pay down the road if this is the route we take? As an American, would you be comfortable with this?

As for Topic 2, I would recommend going back in time and erasing the greatest mass-murderer of all time, Mao Zedong. This superheavyweight champion of death killed some 60 million of his own people during the Chinese Civil War, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and all the other dark chapters of history he authored.

Would killing Stalin solve the Mao Zedong problem also? Clever! Probably! Except, if there is no Stalin, who stops Hitler? The Man of Steel did stop the Wehrmacht, give him credit for that.

As for extending a lifetime, perhaps Alexander The Great would be the most interesting choice. He died in his thirties after conquering an empire stretching from Greece to the Indus River, and it fell apart nearly immediately after his death. Perhaps a long-lived Alexander could have consolidated and even expanded his gains, resulting in a Pax Hellenica and a vastly different history for Asia and the Near East.

That's it! Enjoy what's left of the weekend, and come back again next week for PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 30 April 2006 12:49 PM

Comments

Ken, Do you suppose green peace will be out in their boats after the Chinese and Indians soon?
You all are incredible! ...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at April 30, 2006 02:02 PM

I gotta ask, is the goal really to get back to $2.00 gas? I am inclined to say the goal is to keep economic growth going despite gas prices, which so far it seems to be doing well at.

Sustained higher gas prices, if they do not significantly disrupt economic growth, are not the worst thing in the world. The Dems were right originally in saying that until Americans feel the pain at the pump of driving SUV's and moving further and further into the new sprawling suburbs, they will not change their behavior.

So now the question you are asking is how to manipulate the supply and demand of a product to make if more affordable? If we simply open up our environmental regs to favor domestic exploration, the market will take care of itself. Continued high prices will spur domestic investment (especially if we open ANWR) and also finally encourage folks to conserve. My best friend and mom just bought hybrids. Behaviors are already changing, but we have to let the market dictate these things and it will all wash out.

Our economy is so resilient. Oil prices despite the doomsday MSM and the Democrats, have failed to slow us down, but have encouraged people to pay attention and more folks to buy hybrids. They might have been right about the effects of higher prices when they were advocating for huge tax increases, but they were certainly wrong about raising taxes on it. They are not complete idiots about knowing the good that comes from higher gas prices, just retarded about thinking that we need to artificially manipulate markets. The difference between excessive taxes and a market price spike is whether companies invest in new production or not. Under their tax plan, we would become even more dependant on foreign sources as opposed to providing incentive for companies to develop domestic reserves.

Posted by: Justin B at April 30, 2006 03:58 PM

I tend to agree with you Justin - higher gas prices are not the end of the world, our economy is chugging along just fine anyway, and it has not really changed my lifestyle at all.

Of course, I drive a go-kart, so I planned for this eventuality.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at April 30, 2006 07:59 PM

The government has been dumping billions in research grants for alternative fuels and hydrogen powered cars for decades. Yet none have been viable or capable of being produced in mass. All of the sudden, the market itself has incentives to improve hybrid and alt fuel technology. And this is far more likely to produce viable products than continued government grant money.

If gas prices stay high over the long term (and all demand predictions point that way) and possibly even go higher as China and India seek to purchase more of the world's oil supply, only price pressure will force consumption changes. If we artificially lower the price of oil and gas, essentially we are paying for people's poor consumption choices by taking tax dollars from somewhere else. Cutting taxes that pay for commerce projects and roads is also not a good idea.

I am inclined to think that of all the taxes that we have, the taxes on gasoline that go directly to road construction and maintainance are the closest to fair there is. If you use gas, you are using the roads, and therefore the more you use, the more taxes you pay. Sales taxes are fair taxes. The more you buy the more you pay. Especially when the tax dollars are spent on things directly related to the commerce.

Posted by: Justin B at April 30, 2006 08:44 PM

Kill *Lenin*, you numbskulls. That way you prevent Stalin, Mao, and - most likely - Hitler.

Lenin was a strategic genius. Not every alpha revolutionary can seize the day the way he did in November 1917. So if Lenin is discovered in his sealed train with a couple of slugs in his head (and who would surprised?), no October Revolution. That means no Stalin, and very likely no Mao. And probably no Hitler. One of the political forces driving the Nazis into power was panic over Communism. Since Hitler only just squeaked into power in 1933, it's a fair bet that without anti-Communist panic he would have failed.

No point killing Karl Marx, btw. Someone was bound to concoct a witch's brew of Jacobinism, Hegel, and Sociology to provide intellectual cover for the revolutionary rage that was Satan's intervention in history at this point. The spectre of Communism had already been haunting Europe for years when Karl & Fred got their show going.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah at May 1, 2006 02:46 PM

Cool, Ken! You drive a go kart? Intelligent, artistic and raedy for high gas prices? What a guy!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 1, 2006 04:23 PM

(ready) ^^^^^^^ I meant ready...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 1, 2006 04:25 PM

I find it fascinating that under current conditions nobody wants to "erase" the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). I'd suggest it myself, but I don't want to touch off riots all around the world, or run the risk of getting fatwad.

Posted by: TigerHawk at May 2, 2006 07:10 AM

I would not necessarily be in favor of killing any one person, just not kill The Truth. I do wonder if all those members of the Marxist Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party's Bolshevik faction were lied to, or just hungry?
There certainly was quite a bit of lying going on once Lenin gained power. Lenin lied, millions died !

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