Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sullivan - II

Andrew Sullivan links to a Slate article by Jacob Leibenluft, but the link doesn't work, and I can't find the full article. Nonetheless, and at the risk of misrepresentation, I quote the quote:
The bigger danger from the push for drilling—or more exactly, the arguments used on its behalf—may be how it affects our own behavior. If we pretend that offshore drilling is a fail-safe means of lowering oil prices (or even a likely means), we may hold on to rosy and unreasonable expectations for future gas prices...That will in turn change the calculations we make when it comes to long-term decisions like whether to shell out extra cash for a more fuel-efficient car or a home with access to mass transit. As long as we're counting on gas prices to go down, those green lifestyle choices won't seem as attractive. We may well be surprised once again that we're paying so much at the pump, without having done anything about it.
There's a more general point here, that current actions and policies create an expectation for the future, which conditions current decisions. This is true of every policy that is followed by our government, whether it be in economics, energy, or taxes. If you believe that the capital gains tax rate is going up, you'll make different decisions from those you'd make otherwise. If you believe that we will adopt Al Gore's policy of the elimination of all carbon-based energy in 10 years, you'll make different decisions.

This is the source of our worst kind of corruption. Someone is in a position to know something about a change to a law or a zoning regulation or approval of a TIF, and sells that information to someone who can profit from it. But that's small potatoes.

What's worse is when faux-populist policies are created, and the mass of people respond accordingly. Leibenluft's point is clear - if we sell offshore drilling as the answer to our energy problems, people will believe that and continue burning oil, but, more importantly, they won't support efforts to find other sources of energy. Other countries will continue that research, and we will end up dependent on foreign nations for our energy...sound familiar? (Hillary Clinton's gas-tax holiday suffered from the same weakness.)

If you believe that a war in Iraq can be fought and won in two months, you might well support it; if told it will take more than five years, followed by a 50- or 100-year occupation, you might not. (One of the more noxious aspects of the Bush administration is its unwillingness to understand this, its belief that it has a mandate to do whatever it wants regardless of changes in conditions.)

In baseball, each home-plate umpire tends to have a strike zone that is merely close to the one specified in the rules. Every player will tell you that the important thing is that the judgment remains constant throughout the game, not that a strike exactly conforms to the letter of the law.

Quite often, a consistent strategy, even if flawed, is superior to a changing strategy, no matter how optimal it might be proven to be.

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