Monday, May 08, 2006

Weaning Morons Off Television, Books, and Oil Agitprop

This woman is the only person I know that is "addicted to oil".

Have you ever watched her cook on PBS? She must go through gallons of olive oil like normal people go through gallons of milk. She adds olive oil at least three times during food prep - and in many cases, spoons more directly onto the finished product on your plate.

For what it's worth, I know someone who employs (via subcontractors) tons of illegals in Arizona. They told me that nary a soul missed work during that "big" illegal strike on Monday May 1st.

For you uni-linguists, that means "open the door or I will break the window".

Who is the marketing genius that planned these protests on International Workers' Day - a veritable Communist holiday?

I think it is safe to say that these protests are backfiring.

In my last post, I updated my original Deranged Dog People post. Yesterday, I forgot to include the above self-explanatory picture. (Click on the pic to enlarge.)

There are many people out there that inveigh against watching television. Their complaints run the gamut from "TV causes obesity" to "TV fries your brain". I believe, that like anything else, too little or too much can be bad. Excuse the analogy, but not watching American Idol today would be like eschewing the original Shakespearan plays. When historians look back on 2006, they are going to be very much interested what the masses were doing during the time period in question. If you want to be a cultural Luddite and live an anachronistic lifestyle, fine. But there's considerable ignorance implicit with such.

Anyway, media today is amidst a complete paradigm shift mostly because of the internet. Sure talk radio and cable television were big deals, but they were mere stepping stones to the disruption that the internet is causing. The disruption is two-fold.

1) Content production costs have collapsed to almost zero: cheaper cameras, free research via the web, collaborative reporting, free web hosting, etc.

2) Faster and wider content transmission coupled with mobile telecommunicative devices has made the world indeed a very small and knowledgeable place. News stories now effectively disseminate at the speed of light and to all corners of the globe.

Anyone could now do what Bill O'Reilly does by plugging in a webcam and bloviating about the day's headlines - with little to no cost. In fact many now already are. Check out Michelle Malkin's new daily v-log, or video blog. People will very soon be syncing up their iPods or PDAs to their PC each morning, and uploading everything from SportsCenter and Seinfeld to popular v-loggers like Michelle and whomever else emerges from the free marketplace of punditry.

Devil's Advocate: Is that your plan C-Nut? To become a renowned celebrity pundit?

It would be nice, but so would winning the Masters - neither are very realistic. You can see that there are no ads on my blog (nor any plans for them) and I don't troll the blogosphere posting hyperlinks to my posts, like many other wannabe's do. My blogging is purely a hobby, and has so far been extremely rewarding.

I honestly feel that I have learned more in the one year I have been blogging than I learned in the previous 30 years of my life. All of this mental growth is due to one thing - media interactivity. It's one thing to read some pinhead's view of the economy, yet quite another to actually think about it, perhaps do some research, and articulate a coherent retort.

As for you stuffy elitists who avoid the lumpen television and only read books...

You are information-challenged as well. A book, by definition, is a monologue and not nearly as robust a medium as a blog. We live in the age of the DIALOGUE now. A discourse without an open, appended comment section will have a very hard time gaining (or in the case of antique newspapers, sustaining) an audience. Media consumers simply want an outlet to respond. Furthermore, only piss poor journalism need fear scrutiny and rebuttal.

That's right, OPEC's market share was actually larger in 1999 when oil cratered to $11 per barrel. So if you are going to be a Big Oil, price gouging conspiracist, then you ought to work that into your whacky theories.

I just can't resist exposing Bill O'Reilly's economic illiteracy.

Back in August, Bill said that high gasoline would plunge the country into recession.

He couldn't have been more wrong

He also said during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, that he had proof that Big Oil was manipulating the price. Not only did he never divulge it, last week he admitted that he hasn't been able to find any proof. Yet, he hasn't changed his mind. Like all good conspiracy theories, the lack of evidence is confoundingly more proof of a vast cover-up.

The other day he bashed Big Oil for not investing in ethanol technologies which is ridiculous on its face.

Should the Fox Network be forced to invest in video games or other recreations that would take viewers away from the television? How about forcing Fox in to invest in medical devices or education - certainly the country needs that more than American Idol?

Bill has said that Exxon-Mobil's $400 million pay package for its retiring CEO was an "insult to its customers".

But on a pro rata basis, Bill himself will make more than that (over 13 years). He isn't the CEO of Fox, nor has FOX made nearly as much money for investors.

In fact, at $36 million per season, American Idol's Simon Cowell will also make more money than Lee Raymond. Simon is very far from the CEO slot as well.

Last I checked, neither of the two were meeting the transportation needs of our vibrant economy or generating shareholder returns on the order of Exxon-Mobil.

Bill has said many times that Exxon should sell their product cheaper (among other reasons, because we are "in a time of war"). He's asserted that,

"They only need to earn half as much."

But a good rule of thumb with public companies is,

half the earnings = half the stock price.

If Exxon's earnings halve, shareholders will lose $193 billion.

If all of the dreaded five BIG OIL companies cede to this populist demand and halve their earnings, the total loss for shareholders would be = $559 billion.

(At its peak, no doubt a ridiculous point of reference, Enron was worth only $70 billion. So this loss would be of eight times the magnitude. Yet many of the same people defending the little guys who allegedly lost money on Enron stock, are itching tax Big Oil down to these depths.)

So pension funds, university endowments, mutual funds, and small investors, aka Big Oil investors, would bear the brunt of this cataclysmic loss.

The publicly traded oil service companies also depend entirely on Big Oil to lease rigs, and to buy their equipment along with other services. They account for another $300 billion worth of public equity. With Big Oil, earning half as much, they will necessarily be able to reinvest only half as much money. So investors would lose another $150 billion or so there as well.

Devil's Advocate: But wouldn't consumers paying less at the pump stimulate the economy in other ways? Wouldn't this offset those losses in the stock market?

First of all, don't assume that cheaper oil at the wholesale level would translate into cheaper prices at the pump. Gasoline prices are also a function of taxes (average of 46 cents a gallon - and never going down) and the cost of refining which Big Oil has very little control over.

Second of all, if for whatever reason, either by law or volition, the oil companies profit margins were halved, I can guarantee you that the price of oil would sky rocket. This is financial markets 101. When the whole world sees the amount of money spent on exploration plummeting, the price of oil will rise to reflect that future decreasing supply.

Also, if oil companies lose half of their profits, they will also pay only half as much in taxes.

The nation's energy companies are already providing a "windfall" of taxes. According to Department of Energy data, from 1977 to 2004, federal and state governments extracted $397 billion by taxing the profits of the largest oil companies and an additional $1.1 trillion in taxes at the pump.

In today's dollars, that's $2.2 trillion - enough to buy a Toyota Prius for every household in the nation.

In fact, oil companies have paid in taxes more than three times what they earned in profits during those 28 years.

As the oil industry brings in record profits, it also pays record taxes that average 39 percent worldwide, even after accounting for special deductions and credits. That compares with a 33 percent average tax rate for other industries.

In 2005, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil paid more than $158 billion in total worldwide taxes. This gargantuan tax bill nearly equals the entire economic output of Iran and surpasses the total gross domestic product of 150 of the 184 countries ranked by the World Bank.

Okay, that Prius blurb is a bit absurd. Some (who knows exaclty how much?) of that money had to be spent on road maintenance over the last 27 years. So there is no way that we all could have been given Prius' from taxing largesse.

Also, make no mistake about it, cars like the Prius are the enemy of tax collectors. Generally speaking, fuel efficiency is a tax loophole. Gasoline taxes accrue on a per gallon basis and are ostensibly meant to pay for road maintenance. Yet the people who drive the most, likely buy fuel efficient cars, and therefore pay the least in gas taxes.

Similarly, as the price of gasoline rises, drivers cut back on gasoline consumption and state tax receipts get ravaged. The states will respond by likely cutting local aid to towns. So don't be surprised this year when your local municipality tries to raise taxes on you. They'll expertly frame it as needed to "save high school sports" or a similar ruse, as they have been doing the last two decades in Massachusetts.

But the overall point remains, if Big Oil's profits are cut, not only will the price of oil rise and shareholders lose billions, the government will also lose billions in tax revenue.

There's no doubt that Bill O'Reilly is economically illiterate but, I have a sneaking suspicion that he knows he's dead wrong. He simply doesn't care. He goes to great lengths to show he's "fair and balanced", and Big Oil bashing is just part of that larger endeavor. After all, he can't be a right wing shrill if he stands up to Big Oil - or so he thinks. It's just like when he highlights nutty religious people, no matter how obscure and impotent they are. He's just pandering to demographics. With likely 80% of the country economically illiterate, he sees Big Oil bashing as a pretty safe gambit.

Big Oil bashing amounts to not much more than Big Complaining. Like most complainers, Bill and his brethren's arguments seriously lack context.

If the price of oil is being manipulated, then what about sugar, gold, silver, Treasury Bonds, and real estate?

All are at or near multi-decade highs. Look at the explosion in copper:

Should we start hauling Big Copper CEOs before Congress now?

That chart above shows the recent explosion in zinc.

Because of which, it now costs more than one cent to make a penny. The latest projection is 1.4 cents to make a penny.

Surely our government wouldn't spend 1.4 cents to make a penny? If only I had such confidence. Soon, a nickel will be more valuable melted down, than in your bank account as well.

Given the relevant context, it's kind of tough to argue that ONLY oil prices are being manipulated up.

Generalized commodity inflation explains oil prices - so lose the conspiracy theories.


Anonymous said...

C-Nut, Thanks for the post that hits home.

All this Oil company bashing makes little sence. Supply and demand- if people are willing to pay $1 for a pen, then pens priced at $1 and below will sell. If a company sells pens of the same quality and cache for $5, many less (almost none) pens will sell. Oil works the same way. If people dont buy gas FROM ANYONE, prices will fall. I am sick of hearing people say "boycott the biggest companies." This will actually cause prices to GO UP since supply will be drained from the smaller companies whom have less stock making it impossible to absorb tiny supply fluctuations. Unfortunately, we cannot just stop buying gasoline - the only answer is to use as little as possible.

CaptiousNut said...

That's right BC, it is almost impossible to avoid the Big Oil gas stations.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, environmentalists have essentially closed over 30,000 "mom-and-pop" gas stations over the last decade or so.

The one "mom-and-pop" station near me is currently selling gas at $2.89. There were about six cars waiting this morning so I went up to the Shell and paid $2.99.

I bought my 14 gallons and paid $1.40 extra to avoid waiting (also the independent doesn't have a credit card machine at the pump - very annoying.) What's $1.40, a third of a cup of Starbucks coffee?

The "mom-and-pop" line waiting for $2.89 gas doesn't illustrate "gouging" at the Shell. It demonstrates the hyper-competitive nature of the gasoline market. Consumers are irrationally cheap when it comes to gas - but like I said, then they'll go spend $4 on a latte.

The gasoline dialogue is bereft of facts, logic, and even basic arithmetic.