Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today's Political Lesson: The Pennsylvania Shale-Gas Industry and Conservative Beliefs

A YouTube comment attached to this video about millionaires who would like to pay more taxes gives such a good example of the vast problems when one tries to communicate across the political aisle (more of a chasm than aisle):
The reason we're in the crapper is because of a century of socialist government policies, government involvement in the free markets and cancerous relationships that involvement spawns. Due to unconstitutional "subsidies" paid with money stolen through taxes, we don't know the real price of anything.
Yeah, it's YouTube comments, the place one goes to find the very worst stupidity and misogyny and so on on this planet. But the statement is not that different from others I have read on the net. It has the magico-religious term "free markets" and the usual argument that what the US government has done in the last hundred years is "socialist" and it argues that taxes are theft.

The best way to interpret that quote is as something do with a religion. It does not lend itself to any kind of logical arguments, because the term "free markets" is not an economic one and because the term "socialist" is clearly used in quite a different sense than its dictionary definitions. But once one sees this as a religious assertion, the conversation stops right there as I well know. One cannot debate religion with facts.

This came to mind when I read the article about the Pennsylvania shale-gas industry that Atrios linked to. The quote he gives is worth giving here, too:
In what is shaping up as a key victory for the shale-gas industry, Gov. Corbett and the legislature appear close to stripping municipalities of the power to impose tough local restrictions on wells and pipelines. Under a pending measure, wells and pipelines would be permitted in every zoning district - even residential ones - statewide.
And the industry isn't stopping there.
Two pipeline companies are seeking the clout of eminent domain. While the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has yet to rule, it signaled this year that it was leaning toward giving firms condemnation power to gain rights-of-way for their pipelines.
The saga of the shale-gas industry in Pennsylvania is about much more than the pipelines. It is about jobs, about profits, about possible environmental degradation and possible polluted waters. But this particular quote is an odd reversal of the argument made in that YouTube quote:

Here are the markets! They appear to be damn free to do whatever they wish! But they still have that cancerous relationship with the state government! Talk about subsidies! The government is simply giving in to them, so we will never know "the real price" of the gas. Theft? Did anyone mention theft and the government?

I bet that is not what the YouTube commentator meant, however. And note that the so-called "free markets" here are ONE FIRM negotiating (or extorting) one state government. That is not the definition of a competitive industry.

The Pennsylvania problem is an interesting one from a conservative angle. What should the state of Pennsylvania do? If it courts only the firm (and the jobs) it will do what it seems to be doing.

But by doing that it takes away property from voters who just might vote Republican. A house someone bought in an expensive residential area with good schools some years ago will now have a humongous pipeline under the backyard where children play. The house will sell for less. Will every house owner get an exactly calculated sum of money from the firm to compensate for the financial and other losses?

In the actual fracking areas the landscape might look like shit. The water might be polluted. Those rich enough can move, of course, or at least buy clean water to drink, and I guess that most of the really nasty stuff will ultimately be located in the poorer communities, because that's how power works.

My point here is not to analyze the Pennsylvania events in any great detail. I haven't followed them well enough to do that. Instead, I wanted to bring a realistic example of how an industry and a government can get into a "cancerous relationship," and this with Republicans in power. I also wanted to point out that there is no such thing in reality as the magico-religious free market. In this particular case there is one very powerful firm fighting municipalities. Finally, all large projects of this type have winners and losers. If power is allowed to prevail, the winners will decide all the rules and nobody will compensate the losers.