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May 26, 2008

Wrong Way Hearing

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee called upon many oil industry executives to defend themselves on the matter of high oil prices:

"You have to sense what you're doing to us — we're on the precipice here, about to fall into recession," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "Does it trouble any one of you — the costs you're imposing on families, on small businesses, on truckers?"

It's good to know that I can always depend on my elected representatives to get things completely wrong.

It's not a simple matter of choice to reduce oil prices. And even if it were, the companies represented at the hearing are a small minority of producers in the world oil market. Extractive commodity prices are set by demand and by expectations of future demand. If the price fell artificially, there would be shortages, and shortages would be dangerously worse than high prices.

I do not hold the oil companies completely blameless. They have been asking the government for permission to expand their production (whether that be more refineries, drilling in ANWR, the outer continental shelf, etc.) for years. It was an error merely to ask. They should have insisted on setting a crude oil price at which development would have been allowed.

Think about drilling in ANWR. If we had a free market (we don't), that land would be bid for both by oil companies who want to drill, and by environmentalists who want to preserve it. There would exist some price of crude oil above which the oil companies' expectations of profit from that development would be enough to overcome the potentially high cost of the land (as bid up by environmentalists). Then it would be developed.

The environmentalist lobby is very influential. They have prevented the development of this land without regard to its economic value. But this is wrong, morally and methodologically. Whatever value the undisturbed wilderness has — whether you think that's a little or a lot — ought to be rationally weighed against the value of the alternative uses of that land. If we accept arguendo that it wasn't worthwhile to drill in ANWR with crude oil at $25/bbl, that conclusion may no longer hold with crude oil at $125/bbl. The case for development is, in fact, five times stronger than before.

By blocking the oil companies from increasing production, Congress is responsible for the trouble of ordinary Americans struggling to afford gasoline. The oil companies are trying to increase production, but Congress isn't letting them! When people damn oil companies for high prices, they are literally blaming the victim. When they encourage Congress to enact a windfall profits tax, they are praising the villain.

It's clear that no single development (such as ANWR) will make a large difference in the price of oil. The market is too big and the new production would be a tiny fraction of the total. But that's not a reason to block it! Everything happens at the margin.

To Senator Durbin:

You are wrong to blame oil companies for high prices. This is your responsibility — yes, you personally. This is your fault, Senator Durbin. You have the power to improve the situation and instead you're making it worse. Shame on you.

To Congress generally:

You should sell ANWR to the highest bidder. You have refused to attempt to set a price for that land, but a price is the rational way to value it. The market doesn't need your help; markets discover prices on their own if only you'll let them. They will discover its environmental value and weigh it rationally against development.

To environmentalists:

You do not have the privilege of complaining about high oil prices as long as you're opposed to developing ANWR "at any price". You made your bed, now lie in it.

May 14, 2008

Primary Thoughts

The nonpartisan ballot for the Oregon primary doesn't offer many things to vote on. Ten judges but only one race with a competitor, plus three state measures. Hard to get excited. But I'll try.

At first blush I thought the judicial race between Andy Erwin and (incumbent) Keith Rogers would be difficult to find information for, but then I found this story about the race that makes me believe it's rather heated. My eyebrows go up a little reading the comments about peoples' yard signs being stolen and vandalized multiple times. I can't quickly make up my mind about this race.

Measure 51 sounds like a sure thing. No arguments filed against it, lots of arguments filed for it, and an explanatory statement that makes it sound like it's all good things. But I read the actual text of the measure and am deeply troubled by Sec. 42 (5):

Upon the filing by the prosecuting attorney of an affidavit setting forth cause, a court shall suspend the rights established in this section in any case involving organized crime or victims who are minors.

It does not make sense to me that victims' rights in cases involving organized crime should be different than in other cases. The explanatory statement says this is because the victims may be co-conspirators; I am unconvinced that this is a good reason to suspend their rights. It also does not make sense to me that a minor should be denied the particular rights established in this section. The explanatory statement says minors could be manipulated by the accused; I do not agree that removing rights from a victim who is a minor can be better than leaving the option to assert those rights. I am leaning against this one. It'll pass anyway.

Measure 52 is similar to measure 51 in providing enforcement for victims' rights. I see no troubling language in the text of the measure so I'll be voting in favor of this one.

Measure 53 is pure evil. I have read too many horror stories of asset forfeiture to in any way desire the process be made easier. Oregon's protections against forfeiture are fairly strong but I would want them to be made even stronger, not weaker, as this measure would do. The most offensive thing it would do is to turn justice on its head and put the burden on the accused to show that cash, weapons, or negotiable instruments found near "controlled substances or instrumentalities of criminal conduct" are not the proceeds of crime. I'm voting against!

May 12, 2008

Comparative Driving Redux

This is an update to a post made almost a year ago about a friend who also kept a lot of data about gasoline purchases. I made pretty graphs, because everyone loves pretty graphs.

My friend sent me some fresh data for the past year's driving, so here are some shiny new pretty graphs:

Daily Driving Miles

My daily driving had been holding steady below 10mi/day until mid-2007, then punctuated by spikes of extra travel that won't make sense unless you know me in meatspace. (P.S., there's another spike coming.)

Low Fuel Efficiency

With my additional driving, my car's fuel efficiency rose to about the advertised level for city driving (19mpg). My friend has continued to drive longer distances than me, and in a more fuel-efficient car.

Oregon and Iowa Retail Gasoline Prices

Nobody will be surprised to learn that gaoline prices continue to rise. Oregon generally stays a few cents more expensive than Iowa; I believe this is because self-serve is illegal in Oregon.

Time Between Fills

I've joined the rest of humanity in generally needing to buy gasoline more than once per month. Don't cry for me; I'm okay. But my car needs an oil change.

Back to This Blogging Thing

Hi. I hope you remember me. I realize I haven't been so communicative lately… and it's not because I don't care, it's just that I've been so busy. Priorities. I hope you understand.

Anyway, I'm back. Let's catch up a little.

My vacation was great. Mother, sister, and friend are all doing well, and apparently driving each other only a little crazy. I've spent long periods of time with each of them and emerged mostly unharmed (although that is the subject of some debate) so I look upon this situation with some sense of amusement. If I may channel the Emperor for a moment, "everything is proceeding as I have forseen."

I got my new TV on Friday — I splurged and got an LN-T5281F — and spent much of the evening calibrating it. I expected that the initial settings would burn out my retinas (because that looks good on a showroom floor under fluorescent lighting), but I didn't expect that the "standard" settings would be nearly as bad. I fixed it. I learned that several of what people are supposed to consider as advanced features to improve the image actually do visibly bad things to the gray scale, so I've turned them off. Today I marveled for a few minutes at the amazing picture quality of a 16:9 1080i OTA golf tournament. And then I stopped myself, because a pretty picture is no reason to watch golf. :)

As a brief aside, I also got a new book at the same time I got my new TV. Unfortunate timing, yes, but that's a straightforward side-effect of ordering the TV through Oh yeah, I'm waiting for some CDs too…

I have continued to mostly not pay attention to the election. I haven't even read my voter's pamphlet yet, although I aim to do that soon and blog up some commentary. I've distantly followed the back-and-forth on the idea of a temporary suspension of the gasoline tax, but my own ambivalence on the topic surprises me. On one hand I reflexively like tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit, because in the current circumstances there seems to be a genuine gain in that. On the other hand, the gasoline tax operates reasonably closely to a use tax on the road system, which is a lot less economically distortionary than other kinds of taxes and I'm certainly open to the idea that the current gasoline tax is too low in terms of what it's supposed to fund.

Finally, happy birthday Ellie! They grow up so fast. She's walking now, even if it looks a little Frankenstein-ish. :)

May 04, 2008

Name That Bloom

My sister has a vine in her aviary that blooms this time of year. The flowers don't last very long — only a day or two — but are unlike anything I've seen before.

Does anyone know what this plant is called?

(Click the pictures for larger versions.)

Weird flower Weird flower

Tiny Island