Friday, September 02, 2005

A dope slap from the Invisible Hand.

Let's give a big hand and Cucking Stool welcome to . . . Adam Smith! You know, the Invisible Hand Guy. The Alfred E. Neumann of economics. He was the guy who said Hey, don't worry about it! If everyone just does their own thing, it will work out for the best for everybody. Truer words have probably been spoken.

People across this fair and great land stand with mouths agape as the "sale" meter spins dizzyingly and the "gallons" meter ambles along at the gas pump. They are wounded and offended, Spotty says offended, that gasoline could be so expensive. The cry When will gas prices come down? arises across the land. Suburban pickup and SUV drivers invoke the name of the Lord, asking for relief. When will it come?

The answer, gentle reader, is probably not for a long time, and are you ready for this, maybe never. The signs have been there for quite a while, but everybody was too busy seeing through the tinted glass of their moon roofs darkly.

Except for the practitioners of faith-based geology, oil industry experts have been predicting that we would, perhaps sooner rather than later, arrive at the phenomenon of "peak oil." Or in other words, that's all there is, there ain't gonna be no more. Oil output has maxed; from here on out it will only decrease. How can that be? Our entire lifestyle is based on oil! And those rapacious Chinese and Indians want more oil all the time! The recent hurricane in the gulf may have just speeded up the process a little, bringing it home, so to speak.

But surely the market will save us! Especially in the long run. As has been observed before, however, in the long run we will all be dead. And the economy will be on life support. One particularly droll observer of this whole scene is James Kuntsler, a former editor at Rolling Stone. He writes a blog called Clusterfuck Nation, and he is also the author of the recent book The Long Emergency.

The mainstream media seems to now be just waking up to the fact that we are going to be in deep doo doo. Until a few days ago, the media were full of stories about how gas prices really didn't matter any more. Wrong. They do.

What does this have to do with a dead Scot economist? The people who worship at Adam Smith's altar predict that the all-wise market will provide alternatives. Maybe in time, but certainly not in a way that will permit grim-faced 140 pound women to drive 7000 pound SUVs to pick up a 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread. Or drive that same SUV an hour each way to work.

Perhaps the invisible hand should have stuck its finger in the dike in New Orleans, too.

The fact of the matter is that the market is amoral. It cannot make moral judgments (and Spotty doesn't mean pinched-face Christian fundie judgments; he means judgments about the well-being of people right here on terra firma) about the common good or promoting the general welfare.

That's what governments are for: to provide some strategic thinking, and to, gasp, hector us a little into conserving a little energy. And maybe fix those dikes before it's too late.


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