PM Pick

Gasoline gouging

A column by Edward Andrews in Sunday's New York Times cast a gimlet eye at the notion that consumers need to be protected from price-gouging oil companies.

if the oil industry is so powerful, why did it let gasoline prices fall through the floor throughout the 1980s and part of the 1990s?

For that matter, why did it let gasoline prices fall sharply after they spiked in 2005 and 2006?

Many Democrats, and a much smaller number of Republicans, remain convinced that there is a villain.

One freshman senator — Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania — has introduced bills to tax the “excess profits” of oil companies when oil sells for more than $50 a barrel.

I used to much more sympathetic to the logic behind Casey's proposal, seeing profit as something unfairly extorted by the powerful, who exploit a particular moment in time. If you isolate gas prices from everything else in the economy, mayb eyou can make some kind of case for some "natural" level of profit beyond which a company becomes unduly rapacious. But ultimately, there is no coherent logic for where to draw the line regarding what level of profit is excessive, particularly when you consider a corporation's guiding principle of maximizing value for stockholders. I'm not saying that excuses all forms of greed a corporation exhibits, but the whole reason for organizing corporations, though, is to produce entities capable of overriding mere human morality by dispersing ethical responsibilities across an institution. Where you stand toward this depends on how you view the prosperity such amorality produces along with the callous indifference to human needs.

Anyway, one can't isolate the significance of the price of gas from the rest of the economy; it indicates not merely the demand for gas relative to its supply, but the value of gas relative to other energy options and other goods generally. Were we to make gas cheaper than the market would bear, this would distort signals across the entire energy economy, and tend to reinforce the inefficiencies that are already making gas inexpensive, requiring more state intervention to inhibit gas-price inflation, and so on, and the next thing you know we are on the road to serfdom. Okay, well, maybe not, but if the market can bear the profit margins oil companies want to pursue, it's a signal not of their greed (after all they are only doing exactly what's expected) but of a drastic overreliance on gasoline best addressed through other means. Expensive gas makes other forms of energy seem more cost-efficient; obviously this compensatory fact is not true if the state intervenes to upset the price system. Taking a windfall tax on oil companies' excess profits and investing it in alternative energy seems sort of a backwards way of accomplishing what the market's logic would push for anyway. (Maybe I have been reading too much economics.)

Also, environmentally minded liberals should be aghast at the idea that gas prices would be lowered by state fiat, which essentially means the government would be (further) subsidizing rampant carbon emissions rather than incentivizing conservation like it pretty obviously should be. It's not quite a Pigovian tax, internalizing the external damage wrought by gasoline consumption, but it at least has the similar effect of discouraging consumption and dislodging the stubborn inelasticity of gas demand. Yes, higher gasoline prices more severely afflict the lower and middle classes who are trapped by a species of path dependency into needing gas-burning autos to maintain the standard of living they are used to, but the cycle needs to be broken somewhere. And is there any aspect of society that is not improved by people using their cars less often?

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image