Thursday, March 29, 2012

Oil Economics for Dummies

Saw an article on Yahoo about President Obama insisting that we get rid of tax subsidies for oil companies because they're already making big enough profits and obviously don't need the subsidies.  As he said:
"It's like hitting the American people twice. You're already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress up until this point has thought it's a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

"It's not like these are companies that can't stand on their own. Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour. And when the price of oil goes up, prices at the pump go up, and so do these companies' profits," Obama said.
And since Yahoo's commenters are often populist rightwingers who simultaneously believe that the powerful are too powerful yet also hate liberal government for trying to stifle the powerful, I was wondering how they'd respond.  Could they possibly side with Obama and realize that multi-billion dollar companies probably don't need tax subsidies to keep them going?  Sadly, no.

Who's the Idiot?

Here's the first comment I read, which was the most popular comment at the time and representative of most of the ones I saw:
Does this idiot not know that if they stop the tax breaks, the cost of gas will go up. The way to do this is to let them start spending the money on drilling for oil off our shores an up north. Where in the world did this guy come from. I wish I could pull his strings for a while.
And well, no.  That's absolutely NOT how things work.  I mean, this is just basic economics.  Supply & Demand 101.  Because businesses do NOT base their prices on how much they pay to buy or produce a product, or whether or not they get tax subsidies.  Prices are determined by the market, period.  That's it.  And if a product costs more to produce than they can sell it for, then people just won't sell it. 

And that's because ultimaetly, it's the buyer who sets the price, not the seller.  Something's worth is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it.  I could offer to sell my car for $1 million, but if someone's only willing to pay $10,000 for it; then that's what it's worth, regardless of how much I want for it.

And to think otherwise is just mind-boggling.  I mean, are we seriously to imagine that a business can arbitrarily set its own prices, regardless of the market?  Taxes go up on me so I'm going to increase the price of my widget from $10 to $15?  That's nuts.  Because if I could sell it for $15 and still make good business, I would do it REGARDLESS of how much it cost me.  Why would I sell it for $10 if I could make more money selling it for $15?  Because I'm generous?  No, I sell it for $10 because that's what I think is most profitable for me, and think it'd hurt my business to sell for $15.

Don't Know Nothing About Economics

Same goes for oil companies. If they could sell gas for $10 a gallon and still make good money, they would. But they'd rather sell it for $20 a gallon. Why don't they? Because people wouldn't pay it and would immediately rush out to buy the first electric car they could find. And if there's something defective with the oil and gas markets (which there is), it's that the sellers have TOO MUCH influence on their price, because they're not really in competition with one another and get to set their prices higher than they would be if the markets functioned more freely.  So getting rid of the tax subsidies wouldn't increase the price of gas; it'd only make their current profits more in line with reality.

And what really bugs me is that this basic economic fact is completely lost on these boneheads, yet they imagine themselves to be business gurus.  Like the person above who called Obama an idiot for thinking that businesses with record profits could afford to pay more taxes.  Sure, they never attended a real economics class or at least never understood the one they took, but they've heard from someone they trusted that this is how it works, and that makes them an expert.

Yet generally speaking, conservatives know less about economics than liberals do, and the majority of liberals know very little.  And even the smart conservatives keep their mouths shut about this sort of thing, as they feel no need to correct people for making basic mistakes of this nature.  Conservatives know that they're aligned with Big Business and that makes them automatic experts on the business world, so there's no need to actually learn this stuff or bother understanding it. 

All they know is that oil companies are being attacked by Obama, and that's good enough for them.  And while they clearly see that some people in this world have more power than others, their ideology simply can't provide them with a solution to this problem.  So their best answer is to tell government to step out of the way, even if that means continuing government tax subsidies of an industry that obviously doesn't need subsidizing.  I mean, if oil at $100 a barrel isn't motivation enough to keep drilling, then nothing is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse Beats Zombie Existence

Over on Facebook, a friend reposted the picture below, reposted by Star Trek's George Takei; to which I wrote the comment below.

The thing is, this really makes sense, because life is just so pointless. Give a man a gun and show him where the enemy is, he'll know what to do. You point, you shoot, done deal. Add in a leader to tell him when it's time to move and when it's time to eat, sleep, and piss; he's set. And as long as the enemy is a zombie or other obvious evil, there are no moral qualms about what you're doing. Shoot your neighbor, go to jail. Shoot your zombie neighbor, you're a hero. That's something we all can understand.

But regular life...where life and death isn't really on the line, is pointless and stupid. Tell me I need to wake up at six in the morning because my life depends upon it, I'll do it. Tell me I need to wake at six in the morning because you're my boss and you arbitrarily decided what time I needed to be at a computer pressing numbers that I could have just as easily started pressing two hours later and I'll tell you to go to hell.  And then I'll get fired.

And that's why most people are so miserable, because they rarely have any real problems to deal with. Just bullshit problems created by bullshit people who are equally bored with their own bullshit existence and have to make shit up just to pretend like there's a reason to exist.

Shooting zombies and living to survive would be fucking awesome. Trying to live a happy life without being crushed by the man is difficult.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Putting Underwear on Feet and Other Tricks of the Brain

On Facebook, a friend of mine posted the picture below, which I really did like.

And I commented about how I didn't understand how social conservatives could not see the contradiction when they rail against excessive morality in Muslim countries while also railing against excessive immorality in our own country.  I mean, it seems like a pretty straight forward connection here, so it boggled my mind that these people couldn't see the contradiction.  Instead, they link liberals to inequality in the middle-east, somehow oblivious to the fact that we're even further to the left on these issues than they are.

But as is my style, I started typing until I had my solution, which I've reposted below.

I'm thinking this really comes down to a basic calculation of My Position = Good, Opponent's Position = Bad; and that's it. When they're reciting their position against immorality in America or against morality in Muslimland, they're not really thinking about what they're saying. They're just repeating what they're told, which they store in the "These Are Bad Things" slot in their brains. Which is why they link liberalism to immorality in America and morality in Muslimland, because liberals are *also* in the "These Are Bad Things" slot. It's like everything that's stored there is obviously linked, or it wouldn't be there.

And it's like the difference between someone who dumps all their socks in the sock drawer and wears whatever they pull out first, as opposed to someone who carefully sorts through their socks and only uses the socks that match their outfit. And if someone sneaks underwear into their sock drawer, they'll go ahead and put underwear on their feet and not understand why that's a problem. After all, it wouldn't be in the sock drawer if it weren't a sock. And you can explain until you're blue in the face that underwear doesn't go on feet, and they'll look at you like you're crazy because they know they pulled it out of the sock drawer and so it's got to be a sock.

Because that really is how our brains work. We store things in specific areas in our brains and pull them out when we need them. And the only question is how well our brain space is organized, and if we're effective at keeping the crap out rather than deluding ourselves by filling it with garbage that sounds good but doesn't really fit. And that's what happens when we trust people to tell us the truth more than we trust ourselves. Fortunately for me, there's something wrong with my brain, which is why I don't trust anyone and don't store anything into my brain until I've had time to think about it. Sure, it slows me down, but it helps prevent me from making mistakes.

And so I guess I just got the answer to the thing I said I couldn't understand before.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Liars for Truth

On a followup to my previous post, I had someone disagree with what I had written on that Facebook post, basically saying that it's ok to lie about the number of bankers arrested, because the number is still too low and since the problem is so big, the lie is justified.  And the bigger issue, she says, is that the sign sends a message about inequality within our system; as if it's only symbolic to say that zero bankers were arrested, to make a bigger point.

And first off, there is NEVER a good rationalization for lying about this sort of thing.  The only time when it's ok to lie is when the person you're lying to would prefer to be told a lie than the truth.  But in this case, we're just lying to ourselves, and it's *NEVER* acceptable to lie to yourself.  Ever.

Because once you start believing lies, you completely lose sight of your bearings and can't tell what's real and fake anymore.  The only way to truly solve our problems is to have a firm grasp of what the problems are, and you can't do that if you don't even know what the truth is.

Anyway, here's the response I gave her:

So it's ok to lie about the fact that MANY people have been arrested for financial chicanery because it sends a message about your basic point?  Sorry, but that's not the way the game works.  Because it's *not* just this sign.  It's a repeated lie among many people to say that no bankers have been arrested, and I see nothing to gain by allowing that lie to continue.

And the main issue is that it completely misdiagnoses the problem, for the reason you gave: Which is that we have a problem with inequality in that the powerful stay powerful while the weak get punished.  And that too is a total lie.

What we really saw were thousands of peaceful protesters who openly violated the law, got arrested after being given warnings, and then either had the charges dropped or given a minimal fine.  And then you've got bankers and other financial villains who committed crimes that were difficult if not impossible to prove, yet when they're brought to justice, they receive prison time.  That link I gave gives proof to that.

And instead of comparing the number of people arrested, try comparing the years of prison each group received.  You'd find that the peaceful protesters received zero years in prison, while crooked bankers have received hundreds of years of prison, just as they deserve.  And that changes the picture entirely.

And by misdiagnosing the problem, we get to the wrong answer.  If the problem is a powerful elite that is above the law, then the solution is nothing short of revolution.  And that's just fantasy talk, for a wide variety of reasons.

But...if we realize that the problem is that we need improve upon the laws we already have, including increasing our enforcement abilities...that's a solution we can easily attain.  In fact, thanks to Obama, we're already on that path.  And once we realize that, we can see the proper course of action, which is to continue to push for changes we can actually have.

We don't need a revolution, because we already have the tools necessary to fix our problems.  We just need to be able to use them.  And that's why lying about the problem only makes the solution that much further away.

Bad Guys Get Prison Too

Life's not fair.  The bad guys win too often.  There's not enough justice in the world.  These are facts of life and they will NEVER fully go away.  I mean, seriously, even in the perfect Star Trek universe with replicators and tricorders that can make you alive just by waving them around a few times, you still had conmen and injustice.  That's just the way things are, and while things have certainly been worse than they are now, things could be a heckeva lot better.

I say that to establish my bonafides as someone who sees injustice as an on-going problem we have and I'm not trying to whitewash anything.  And really bugs the hell out of me every time I read people complain about how no Wall Street bankers have been arrested.  I mean, seriously?  None of them?  Not a single arrest?  The SEC gave them all a free pass?  Really? 

I mean, how can people believe such drivel?  Do they not read the news?  Have they no access to the internet?  I mean, yeah, they've got to have internet access, or I wouldn't be able to read this crap.  But I'm wondering if it's maybe some closed-loop AOL-type internet, that doesn't have access to the outside world.  How else could it be that they somehow miss all the stories I keep reading about? 

Does Bernie Madoff not mean anything to them?  How about Allen Stanford?  And sure, those are only two guys, but we only know them because they were so rich and powerful.  So if super-wealthy guys get taken down...shouldn't it be safe to assume that other cheaters got taken down, too?  I mean, at least one other guy, right?

Yet I see this complaint all the time.  One of my friends on Facebook, who is someone I actually like btw, posted this image on his wall:
Right. And I'm sure that the person who created that imagine really believed it too.  They weren't attempting to deceive anyone.  They just thought about unfair the world is.  All those peaceful protesters arrested, and not a single corrupt banker. Of course it must be true. Why would so many people keep saying it unless it's true.

And that's why I'm thankful tor this government site:, which gives all the gritty details as to who's getting arrested and how many years in prison they're getting.  They even have a news section, which focuses on news stories of corrupt bankers, inside traders, Ponzi schemers, and other financial evil doers going down.  Even if you don't read the stories, it feels nice to skim through the headlines, just to see all the jerkoffs getting at least some of what they deserve.

So the next time you or someone you love gets overly upset about all the financial chicanery in the world, you can just go to that site and see that not all bad deeds go unpunished.  Things ain't as good as they should be, but they aren't nearly as bad as we're told.