Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
I've become persuaded that three immutable laws apply to politics and property:
- Nobody waxes a rental car
- Nobody else is going to floss your teeth
- Writing the check isn't the same as paying the price
Nobody waxes a rental car: It's pretty simple. If you don't own something, you simply aren't going to take the same care you would if it were your own. There are some minor exceptions, of course: If you borrow something from your parents, you'll probably treat it pretty close to how you would treat your own stuff. And if you're going to face stiff penalties for lack of care, then you'll probably treat it better just because the terms of the punishment make the damage your own. But people simply don't, as a rule, take good care of things that they do not own -- especially not preventative care.
Nobody else is going to floss your teeth: This is the obverse of the previous rule. If you don't take care of your own property, nobody else will. Period.
Writing the check isn't the same as paying the price: The debate over the proposed $10 a barrel oil tax is the perfect example. Oil companies aren't going to "pay" $10 a barrel in taxes -- they'll pass along part of the cost. And how much they will pass along depends on just how badly consumers want the oil.
Tin Foil Hat Award
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
Instead of proposing a hopelessly outsized oil tax, the White House instead should propose a simple, no-brainer tax -- say, $2.00 a barrel. We consume about 7 billion barrels of oil a year, and with oil prices exceptionally low, nobody could reasonably complain -- if the proceeds (about $14 billion a year) were dedicated specifically to inducement prizes for energy innovations. The government could offer $1 billion in exchange for the full rights to put big energy innovations into the public domain. $1 billion is enough to move a lot of people to action -- from large businesses to garage tinkerers -- and a guaranteed $1 billion, no-questions-asked cash-out would be more than enough to get most people to happily sign over the rights to their breakthroughs. Inducement prizes are a great way to motivate people and concentrate attention on important issues, and if there were enough in revenues to fund 14 new prizes every year, the US could get a lot of energy advancements for a terrifically low price. Moreover, prizes could help grease the wheels to outcomes with high social value but low market value (like, say, reductions in emissions). Of course, a big prize could distort the market outcome -- but if applied to situations where the market has failed to produce socially-desirable results, prizes can be a very efficient way of correcting market shortcomings.
Quote of the Week
"A nation can be free but it will not stay free for long if it has no friends and no alliances. Above all, it will not stay free if it cannot pay its own way in the world." - Margaret Thatcher