November 12, 2002

Rumble, young man, rumble.

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Rumble, young man, rumble.

I’ve just recently come across the Economist’s Style Guide, and if you’re looking forward to
that ambitious step up from pointing and grunting, I urge you to
give it a look.

My family had a dinner-table discussion today about the hard-cap
that’s been put on power prices in Ontario, that my Dad started
out with his finest provincial-politics imitation of Dennis Hopper
from Speed; “You’re in a newly-privatized energy market of your own
design, with skyrocketing prices and surrounded by angry voters! What
do you do, hotshot? What do you do?

Tough call not fair, I said, pretty much in one breath. You can’t
take somebody who’s spent the whole trip in steerage, put them at
the helm and ask them if they have any solutions to this unforseen
iceberg problem. Still, the appalling thing is that this is not
unexpected at all. It’s precisely what you, if you happen to be
a Conservative MPP, were aiming for in the first place. Market
forces are now hard at work! Huzzah! Surely we are en-route to the
promised land!

Hold that thought.

What amazes me about this whole thing is not so much that Big-C
Conservative politicians keep running this privatization platform
– they pretty much have to, if they’re going to keep their party
cards – but that people keep thinking will work this time. “We
believe in a leaner, smaller government. We’ll privatize things,
and that will lower your taxes!” Great plan. And if those services
were subsequently provided by the magical toil of generous, selfless
Hydro-Electric Fairies, the public might even experience a reliable
net savings. Woohoo. True on its face, though, and if you don’t
worry the extra bill that people will be getting or about what
purist capitalism tends to do to the poor you can probably even
get a decent night’s sleep.

Absent the utilities fairies, though, it’s back to Econ 101 –
supply and demand will dance their usual dance, and prices will
chart their waltz about the floor. They will go up and down. In
times when demand for electricity is high, for example at times when
Ontario residents feel that common love of not freezing to death,
prices will go up and up.

Free Market Economies! Competition! The promised land! We’re almost
there! Whoops, no, it turns out that people don’t like
having to pay market value for their electricity, especially when
“market value” turns out to mean “several times more than I used to
pay, where the hell are these savings I was promised?” What do you
do, hotshot? Do you (a) stick to your principles, or (b) shoot the
entire project in the head and hope that’s enough to get reelected?
Free hint: the person making this decision is a politician.

So, now we have a market in which you are free go go out of business.
Ever wonder why voter turnout is so low?

UPDATE – I’m reluctant to turn my beloved almost-daily log into the
kind plaintive, depressing cry
for help
you find all over the net, but if any of you
happen to be the kind of diligent, resourceful people who keep Powerbook
parts stocked neatly on the shelves in your basement,
I’m dying to talk to
. I’ve killed my baby. You really don’t appreciate how gently
the aging, irreparable and irreplaceable ribbon cables in older
machines need to be treated until you completely goon up the process
of taking one of those old machines apart, dammit.

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