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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Today, Venezuela has a Communist dictator. When Hugo Chavez doesn’t like the way things are going with his country’s oil, telecommunications and electric power industries -- or if he merely craves their wealth -- he simply seizes them, calling it “nationalization.”

Is that the way many in the American press and public would like to see things done here -- despite the wreck that such policies made of Eastern Europe over a 75-year span?

Unfortunately, the question is not merely rhetorical. The consensus front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, issued a plan while she was First Lady that would have effectively nationalized the American health care industry -- 15 percent of the U.S. economy -- making it a crime for a sick person to “get out of line” and offer a physician cash for prompt treatment.

Time to end that privilege for the “greedy rich,” you see.

Has Mrs. Clinton really changed her tune? Exxon Mobil last week announced that it earned $39.5 billion in 2006, for a profit of about 10 percent -- the most profitable year any company has ever had.

The bulk of that money goes to stockholders who invested in the firm, either directly or through a company 401(k) plan. That profitability offers assurance that the company will keep developing new oil fields and refineries -- where politicians allow them -- to keep us supplied with gasoline and heating oil at historically low rates (once adjusted for inflation.)

But, speaking last Friday at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Washington, Sen. Clinton said “I want to take those profits and put them into an alternative energy fund that will begin to fund alternative smart energy, alternatives that will actually begin to move us toward the direction of independence.”

According to Investors Business Daily, she made the remarks “with wide, glowing eyes that suggested the mere thought of taking money that didn’t belong to her gave her a thrill.”

But “Threatening to hijack private property in the energy industry is a serious matter,” the business daily points out, in a mild understatement. “If Clinton were able to seize profits, shareholders would suffer harm and Americans who use energy -- that’s all of us, except maybe Ted Kaczynski in his Unabomber days -- would be saddled with higher prices and lower supplies. ...”

“Yet the media largely yawned at the senator’s plan to suspend property rights protection,” the business daily pointed out, possibly explaining why this story got so little play. “Call it the Hugo Chavez Treatment. ... Few in the U.S. media are able to work up much criticism of his actions, even as the nationalization process begins.”

There are doubtless small children in America who would like to “take those profits” and buy ice cream. Their naivete is merely amusing. The schemes of grown-up U.S. senators are of considerably more concern.

More than 22 cents of the cost of a gallon of gasoline at the pump already goes to federal taxes -- topped with a lot more in state and local levies. And those are taxes on a purchase we make with “after-tax dollars.”

Sixty percent of federal land is now off limits to oil drilling, and the federal government controls the majority of the land in many western states. Offshore, the situation is even more restrictive.

The reason gasoline prices rise after a regional interruption like Hurricane Katrina is because environmental regulations have stymied the construction of new refineries for decades. And tough new blended-fuel regulations imposed under the Clinton-Gore Environmental Protection Agency added another 25 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas, according to syndicated columnist Joseph Farrah.

Which brings up the name of the other leading media-celebrated contender for his party’s 2008 nomination -- Occidental Oil heir Al Gore, author of the book “Earth in the Balance,” where he argues the greatest threat to mankind is the internal combustion engine.

On page 173 of that book Mr. Gore notes that “Almost every poll shows Americans decisively rejecting higher taxes on fossil fuels, even though that proposal is one of the logical first steps in changing our policies in a manner consistent with a more responsible approach to the environment.”

It all sounds quite romantic, this robbing from the rich -- no matter whether our savior turns out to be Maid Marian or Al Scarlett.

The question is whether we really want our gasoline drilling and delivery taken over by the people who keep promising they can make a going concern of Amtrak.