Sink the Scaramouche!

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Over at MSNBC, Howard Mortman torpedoes the gas-guzzling-on-the-high-seas antics of the people's candidate, John F. Kerry, who has said, "When gas hits $2 a gallon, we just don't pay for it at the pump. We pay for it in our towns and our schools and our grocery stores." What's more, writes Mortman, Kerry "is a strong advocate of energy independence and raising the corporate average fuel economy standards (CAF?) for cars."

It's fun to learn, then, that Kerry runs around in a 42-foot speedboat called the "Scaramouche." The nautical mileage on that baby? Probably less than 1 mpg, which does little to reduce our "dangerous" dependency on foreign oil.

The Scaramouche story not only comes close to turning an Onion parody ("KERRY MAKES WHISTLE-STOP TOUR FROM DECK OF YACHT") into reality, it jibes almost perfectly with stories about George H.W. Bush from 14 years ago:

In August 1990, during America?s other major deployment to the Persian Gulf, then-President Bush asked Americans to conserve energy. Midway through his 25-day vacation in Maine, a reporter asked President Bush if conserving energy included Fidelity, his recreational speedboat. Bush answered by urging Americans to keep their vacation plans, saying, "I'm going to keep using my boat, and I hope the rest of America will prudently recreate. "

Whole thing here.

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  1. Pete, you're right about the competition. I think another reason is a phenomenon my friends and I have noticed: as gas prices rise, more people seek out the lower price stations. So when gas is $1.40 at the cheap station off the main drag and $1.48 at the Texaco on the highway, people will still go to the Texaco cause it's more convenient. Raise those prices to $2.04 and $2.12 respectively, and the pump usage at the cheap station goes up, while the Texaco goes down, even though it's a smaller percentage savings at that point, and the convenience cost is still exactly the same.

  2. Highway and Pete,
    The big reason gas station owners are losing money is their primary source of income isn't gas, but rather overpriced snack items in the store. If you're spending 35 bucks at the pump, that $1.35 soda doesn't look as thirst quenching as it did before. They'll still get the same amount of total revenue, it's just that more of it goes to cover the cost of gas.

  3. Why is a New England Brahmin who looks and acts the part measurably more objectionable than a New England Brahmin who pretends to be a rootin'-tootin' cowboy?

    George Bush was born in 1946. In 1948, his family moved to Texas, and he's lived there ever since. He married a Texan, he lives on a ranch in Texas, he's run (and worked for) a wide variety of Texas businesses. His only personal connections to New England are (a) he lived there until he was about two years old and (b) he went to school there.

    Calling Bush a "New England Brahmin" is silly. He's not a "rootin'-tootin' cowboy" (whatever the heck THAT is) and doesn't pretend to be, but he's most definitely a Texan. His *dad* is the one with the phony Texas credentials. 🙂

  4. Dan points out the truth. Although Coloradoans can assure you that being a Texan is on the wrong side of being a son-of-a-bitch.

  5. Yet another illustration of the cold hard fact that, while politicians supposedly know what's best for everyone else, they seem unwilling to submit themselves to that very same mob-rule tyranny.

    But pols aren't the only hypocrites. Take all the supposed environmentalists who still drive cars. Or folks like Michael Moore, who constantly bitch and moan about how we should have national socialized healthcare---but he conveniently fails to mention the fact that when you socialize healthcare, you facilitate the need for government legislation of anything and everything that affects your health. And given that Moore is a big fatass, methinks he'd not appreciate Uncle Sam showing up at his door, and having to stare down the barrel of an assault rifle while they confiscate his ho-ho's.

  6. I'm all for taking hypocritical pols to task, but this seems a bit silly to me. A recreational boat just isn't used as often as a personal automobile. How many miles in a year does that boat travel?

  7. Wouldn't raising the CAFE standards lower the average cost of driving per mile and thus possibly increase the amount of driving done?

  8. I don't know if raising the CAFE standards would increase driving, but it would certainly increase road fatalities.

    Then again, I drive a Civic, so saying that makes me as big a hypocrite as Bush and Kerry. 🙂

  9. Raising the CAFE standards could remove one of the impediments to driving, and therefore increase driving. But it would probably be a very inelastic thing, much like raising gas prices doesn't really lower fuel usage in the short term. Over a longer term it does affect demand, as the higher price of fuel factors in purchasing decisions for cars and residences. But since most driving is 'necessity' driving, most people just eat the higher fuel costs, and do almost all of the same driving they would do anyway. Sometimes vacations are replanned, or the choice of cars (for those who have a choice) driven changes a little, but not too much.

    As an aside, I've been hearing coverage of gas station owners complaining that even though prices are higher, their profits are going down since the amount of profit per gallon is staying the same (10 or so cents, I think) and demand is waning a small amount. I kinda wonder why they don't just hike the price up a couple cents to increase their margin. It's not like anyone would blame THEM for the increase more than they already are.

  10. Wow, they're from the same school, were in the same secret society, and both have "gas guzzling" recreational speedboats...

    Separated at birth?

  11. Where's the hypocrisy?

    Am I missing the part where Kerry says recreational boat fuel should be exempt from gas taxes, or the part where he objects to the taxes he paid on his 42-foot pleasureboat?

    Next he'll be hypocritical for using an airplane for campaign travel. Surely someone who believes in fuel taxes and conservation should be getting around exclusively on foot, right?

    Essay question:

    (A) Why is a New England Brahmin who looks and acts the part measurably more objectionable than a New England Brahmin who pretends to be a rootin'-tootin' cowboy?

    (B) Is it hard to reconcile discomfort with the trappings of contemporary American wealth with employment at a magazine and foundation that exist in part to provide intellectual cover for the trappings of contemporary American wealth?

  12. No telling what effect increasing the CAFE standards would have. Who would have guessed when they were instituted that they would lead to half the country driving trucks and the Japanese car companies shifting production to bigger vehicles? Higher CAFE standards could lead to increased traffic congestion as the marginal cost of driving goes down.

  13. "(B) Is it hard to reconcile discomfort with the trappings of contemporary American wealth with employment at a magazine and foundation that exist in part to provide intellectual cover for the trappings of contemporary American wealth?"

    Harumph. I didn't notice any discomfort. I did notice that those on the left are susceptible to this sort of criticism, because they spend all their time acting like 'working men', as joe would have it.

    Intellectual cover from what, by the way? From the grand intellectual tradition of 'give me your stuff?'

  14. Jason Ligon,

    Everyone is a hypocrite; which is why hypocrisy is so boring generally.

  15. I'd like to point out that if one of our presidential candidates is "acting like a 'working man'" it isn't Kerry.

    I'd also like to contribute that, if the CAFE standards were raised, I would immediately take a job further away from home, out of pure rationality.

  16. Gary,

    Ugh! That made me feel a bit ill. It may be true, but, Ugh.

  17. c:

    Touche. I think you know what I mean, though. The platform that vilifies the top 5% and all?

    Also, you really believe demand for transportation is totally dependent on distance to work? No elasticity at all? Why is it that incentives to drive produced by low gas prices are relevant, but incentives to drive based on increased efficiency aren't?

  18. Gary Gunnels,
    Someone recently said that hypocrisy is a product of having standards, so the best way to have no hypocrisy is to eliminate all standards. However, I feel that the time a politician spends defending himself is time he is not coming up with new ways to run my life, so I don't cut them much slack.
    War Eagle!

    c,
    Good point. What environmentalists gain in speculative reduced oil consumption would be offset by that dreadful phenomenom of building houses where there aren't yet houses.

  19. Kerry voters tend not to like "Globalization".

    But you can't find anything more "Globalized" than Kerry's Serotta bicycle.

    It's assembled in the USA, but it has a Japanese or maybe Italian drivetrain & brakes; an Italian or maybe Taiwanese saddle; Taiwanese or maybe French tires. Maybe he has a Chinese-made cycling computer so he can see how fast he is going and if he rides at night, he should have a Chinese-made light.

    It probably has French, Italian or maybe Japanese pedals. Which work with his Chinese-made or maybe Italian cycling shoes.

    As if that weren't bad enough, Shimano is now making a lot of its parts in Malaysia instead of Japan.

    At least the Scaramouche was probably made in the USA......

  20. c,
    Sorry. I totally misread and/or misunderstood your post.

    There might be a small increase in "sprawl" due to increased CAFE standards, but on the other hand, who wants to take a long trip in a car that gets 36 mpg (I'm thinking both safety and comfort in a car using existing technology.)? Increasing CAFE might actually make people drive less. I will spend the minimum time possible in any car I have seen that gets over 50 mpg.

  21. The real problem with labelling something hypocrisy is that it is generally attributable to phantom motivations the person finding the hypocisy attributes to the supposed hypocrit. It's a total waste of time, but it's much easier than trying to figure out what someone else is actually saying, or thinking.

    c,
    Don't worry, they'll raise gas taxes commensurately to keep you where they want you.

  22. KentInDC,

    Well, my argument is not against pointing out hypocrisy, its simply that hypocrisy is, well, boring. 🙂

  23. For the record, I was just being cheeky. Of course there's (some) elasticity in people's demand for gas, both as a function of how far they drive and the car they choose to do it in. But since an individual is primarily in the position to make a meaningful change in their fuel demand when they a) move, b) change jobs, or c) buy a car, most of us just eat rising fuel costs.

    If I were a true slave to macroeconomic theory, then I guess I'd have to take a different job every morning, based on that day's gas prices....

  24. I'd rather be rudely procreating than prudently recreating.

  25. Gary Gunnels,
    Oh, I understood YOUR point (unlike c's). I was just making a comment. We must be on the same wavelength because of the time you spent in E. AL.

  26. "Is it hard to reconcile discomfort with the trappings of contemporary American wealth with employment at a magazine and foundation that exist in part to provide intellectual cover for the trappings of contemporary American wealth?"

    Haha, man, you really don't like these people, do you?

  27. Highway -

    You asked why gas station owners, with their slim margins and (slightly) declining volume, don't simply add a couple cents to a gallon.

    They could. But the guy across the street wouldn't, and soon the guy with the higher prices would lose business and, possibly, face a net reduction in income as a result of his price increase. Or - as many gas station owners do - he can broaden the appeal of his store by turning it into a mini-mart or a porno mecca, and thereby justify the price increases and maintain his business despite higher prices.

    Of course, all the gas station owners could get together and conspire to raise their prices all at once by a predetermined amount. But large price-fixing conspiracies, while possible, are notiously difficult to maintain (just ask Opec, where cheating is rampant). And in this country, further, they're illegal.

    Competition in action.

  28. Is it possible for someone to feel that gas prices are too low, and to also feel that whatever kind of boat John Kerry wants to use is his own damn business?

    It is. Or at least, it should be.

    Libertarians generally don't like to acknowledge the fact, but some activities have significant externalized costs. External costs are imposed on outsiders - people not making the decision about how much of commodity X to use.

    Specific to gasoline, the external costs are air pollution and, some argue, excessive dependence on unstable energy sources. Few would argue that these are not legitimate externalities (those few, incidentally, are all right here on this board waiting to rip my argument word rip word).

    So the question is how to interalize otherwise external costs so that decision-makers make rational decisions? In theory, you simply identify the externalized cost of air pollution and middle eastern misery, and add a prorated tax to each gallon of tax. Then, instead of moralizing about evil SUVs and boats, we rest easy knowing that John Kerry is making rational boating choices because his gas taxes act as proxies for environmental and political damage, leading to the optimum level of topless sunbathing with office interns and campaign volunteers.

    Most luddites insist, without evidence, that gas prices are too low. Most libertarians insist they're too high, because all taxes are equally evil. Nobody, as far as I know, has ever attempted to adduce an appropriate gasoline tax that adequately internalizes external costs. So all that's left is whacking each other over the head with sticks.

    My preferred approach is to apply the successful notion of tradable power plant pollution permits to automakers. As best we can, we should scientifically determine an optimum level of automobile polluion, and then grant permits to automakers. Those, like Honda, that specialize in producing clean, efficient cars could sell their permits to others - like GM - that specialize in producing soul-destroying, skull-crushing deathmobiles like the Hummer that t-boned my Honda and, if my wife had been in the passenger seat, would have killed her. For example. Everybody's happy, competition flourishes, do-gooder finger-wagging stops, pimps and assholes still get to drive their Hummers, and the external public costs of pollution are minimized.

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