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Monday, April 28, 2008

Stanley Steamers, The Wagner Act and the Perils of a Managed Economy

Fuel prices are ridiculous and it's getting ridiculouser! I say we bring back the Stanley Steamer. All you need is a heat source. Heck I have a couple of cords of wood in the back yard - I could get up nice head of steam.

History Lesson - draw your own conclusions.

The Stanley was taken off the market because of false rumors (wonder who'd make up false rumors?) that their boilers would explode. One Stanley did nearly 200mph in a Daytona Beach test once back in the 20's. Another wrecked with a full boiler on that same beach going full out. All the boiler did in the wreck was come loose and roll down the beach blowing steam. I bet I could run one on alcohol. I had an uncle who still knows how to make moonshine. That stuff was potent. He says they used to run their Model T's on the stuff during prohibition!!

Only legit complaint about the Stanley I ever heard was that it gave off an ultrasonic whistle that drove dogs nuts!

I think there was some legislative effort to make them illegal (wonder who would want to do that).

This all happened about the same time that Sam Rayburn (D, Texas) and FDR got together with lobbyists from Goodyear, GM and Standard Oil to write a law that banned electric companies from owning public transportation (remember those electric trollies that ran all over the place in the 30's). The electric companies that were making piles of money off electric streetcars were forced to sell them under the newly passed Wagner Act.

Guess who bought the streetcar companies?- A company formed by a partnership between (you guessed it), Firestone, GM, Standard Oil and, I think, Phillips Petroleum. And what did they do first thing. If you saw the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" you know about the deal. They scrapped the electric streetcars in favor of gasoline powered, rubber tired buses! Shortly after that, they decided that public transit was not cost effective and they scrapped the bus companies right and left. They did this because the new mega transit company and their allies in the government thought it would be a good way to stimulate the auto, rubber and oil industry - so they meddled a little with the free market - all with the best of intentions, of course.

The folks on the left want to blame somebody, so they point boney fingers at the so-called "greedy consumer" - those of us driving SUV's and pickups and such. Somehow it's our fault.

That's a bunch of bunk. We drive cars because that's the system we got stuck with thanks to Sam and Frank's manipulation of the transportation system "for our own good". The over the past half century, we've been sold the on the idea of big cars, the freedom of the open road and the promise of eternal cheap mobility by legions of ad agencies for more than half a century. We designed the roads and transportation systems for private cars when oil was cheap and plentiful and we were trying to fix the problems with railroads. So, we developed a transportation system fueled by gasoline and diesel.

It's just that somebody else saw how well we were doing and decided to siphon off the profits from out economy. Guess who?Same guys that had us standing in line at the pumps back in 1979! Personally, I wish Texas would secede from the union and join OPEC! As long as we're siphoning money.....

The Wagner Act forced a change in our transportation system that deliberately pushed our economy toward reliance on personal cars for transportation. Sam Rayburn (D. Texas) and FDR thought it would be a good idea. Henry Ford and Mr. Firestone thought it was a pretty nifty idea to. J.P. Morgan was wild about the idea.

The point is that the whole streetcar thing was an incident where an attempt was made to control an economic system "for our own good". A bunch of smart guys got together, decided what was "best for America" and wrote some laws to force the changes they thought would be best (and, coincidently, make them all richer).

The great temptation for wealthy and powerful people is to simplify complex systems so that a group of planners, industrialists, or a government can control the economy, the transportation system or the monetary system. What inevitably happens is an exchange of one problem for another.

In fact, the more complex and open economic systems are, the more healthy and stable they are. Whenever you get groups whether governments or corporations or unions or international cabals, trying to control things, they only mess it up. It doesn't matter if they are let, right or centrist, it's the attempt to control what is too complex to control that gums up the works.

Our benevolent leaders deliberately made us dependent on cars and gasoline and oil so that when we were no longer able to produce enough oil for ourselves, we became vulnerable to those that had it and could control the flow of it. We managed ourselves into a lovely trap.

So now, we're looking at a range of political candidates who all tout schemes for managing our way out of the mess we're in, when we got ourselves in this mess in the first place by trying to manage another mess we'd got ourselves into (railroad monopolies and electric company monopolies) which we got into because we tried to manage ourselves out of another mess we'd got ourselves into before that.

Ironically, if we would just quit trying to manage everything and opened up the markets to all sorts of new ideas, opportunities and markets, we might have a shot at digging our way out of this big old mess we're in!

It's not about politics, it's about unleashing the energy of the American people to solve problems. It's like someone pointed out to me the other day about the food shortages. It happened because we decided to pursue bio-fuels by legislative fiat rather than by letting innovation happen as a matter of course. All of a sudden all the corn was going to bio-fuel and acreage was not being planted in wheat and other important crops.

Even then, if we'll get out of the way of American farmers, it looks like small farmers will be able to spring up to meet the need using long abandoned smaller plots of land scattered and lying unused since small farms began to fail thanks to previous government attempts to manage agriculture "for the good of the American people".

Like Ronald Reagan said, "The most frightening sentence in the world is, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help!'"

The end of the great streetcar plot was that a few oil and auto execs were convicted of illegal manipulation of the markets and fined $5,000 each - chicken feed compared to the kind of money they made on the whole deal.

It's kind of fun that GE (the remnant of Thomas Edison's electricity empire and a major loser as a result of the Wagner Act) stands to make a monumental fortune off the whole Global Warming movement which is at the same time crucifying the American auto industry in favor of high mileage foreign made cars, flaying the oil industry for "profiteering" and advocating a return to light rail (non rubber tired) mass transit!!!


They're going to start writing laws again. As the Russians used to say, "The Cossacks are coming. Take off your watches and hide your wives!!!!

We can figure out a way to fix things, if we just quit trying to figure out how to fix things so that they benefit only a certain narrow group of folks or according to the ideas of a tiny group of "leaders".

If we learn anything from nature it ought to be that eco-systems and economic systems are too complicated for us to diddle with. Every time we try, we just muck it up. When are we going to learn the lesson our mother's taught us when we were little.

"Stop picking at it! You'll only make it worse."

Just one man's opinion

Tom King

1 comment:

Raționalitate said...

Love the post...the anti-market origins of the automobile and death of private mass transit are seriously understudied subjects. It's sad that libertarians have ceded mass transit to the statists, despite the fact that the origins of mass transit in America are distinctly libertarians, whereas the origins of the automobile/sprawl/perhaps global warming lie distinctly within the realm of statism.