My wife’s car took about 800 gallons of gasoline last year. My own car took about 400 gallons. Our family probably consumed another 30 gallons directly via snowblowers and lawnmowers and innumerable gallons indirectly due to the presence of gasoline in producing and shipping the many products and services we presently consume. At $4 per gallon, we are in the hole about $5,000 gasoline just to power our lives. You better bet your bacon that we are beholden to gasoline and oil companies. At $2.50 gasoline, we have about $2,000 more in our pocket every year. Think about that, in addition to being able to move ourselves around freely, we can, on top of that, afford a full gym membership, new winter boots, and a paint job in two rooms of our house every single year. Ignoring the real developmental benefits of cheap gas, from a purely selfish standpoint this is great, and I will support anything that continues to make the use of energy so incredibly affordable today,
The simple point, or 2 points, that I intend to make here should be obvious.
(1) How come any time I see the slanderous and ad hominem, “she is in the pay of XYZ!” used to dismiss the legitimacy of an argument or research effort by someone you disagree with, how come the immediate claim is that people are actually being paid by someone? In every real way, we are ALL in the pay of all of the things we consume if we like them. How come when I teach environmental economics and I argue for policies that promote a land ethic or conservation ethic, no one has ever accused me of teaching that simply because I love hiking and have an interest in expanding the largely “free” playground that my dearest hobby takes place in? Never. Or generally, if someone wants to accuse me of being in the pay of Big Oil, I much prefer the intellectually honest (and factually correct) point that I have a huge interest in seeing cheap coal and gas because I am a heavy user of both and cherish the convenience of both, and indeed the consumer surplus I enjoy from these products is hard to measure, over the intellectually cowardly point that the only reason I might ever post something about the benefits of fracking or coal or gas or the problems with biofuels or wind or solar or CCS is that some energy company paid me to do it? And how come if I happened to come out and change my mind about the efficacy of rolling out massive quantities of solar panels in the future, I would not be condemned for being in the pay of “Big Solar?”
(2) Why have I never been accused of being beholden to my employer the U of R? When I speak, I am accused of being in the pay of, say, Exxon, or Koch. Now anyone who knows me knows that I have not only not earned a penny directly from them, but that if one were to do a balance of my work, I am probably a creditor to them. Second, anyone who knows small time teaching and consulting knows that even if I am in the pay of Big Oil, they are not going to be paying me more than a few thousand dollars, certainly not the hundreds of thousands or even millions that scientists tend to secure from their federal and non-profit funding sources. But back to the basic point. Suppose my salary at the U of R is $80,000 plus consider the benefits of being able to be employed in such a nice setting to work (e.g. a HUGE library that I get to use, it seems, all by myself at times!). Further, my family depends on me keeping myself in the good graces of my employer. How come, should I argue that there are benefits to fracked gas, it is believed that I would say such a thing because some gas company managed to first pick me out of a pack of thousands of academics who might have some thoughts on the issue (how would they even know me, I am a nobody economist?), and second they managed to advance me a few thousand dollars to write a paper or make a public comment or something. That few thousand dollars, most likely a one-shot payment, is simply nothing as compared to what my employer means to me. If I am going to be the mouthpiece of anyone, it sure as heck is going to be the people and ideas that really butter my bread. You would think that not only would I be in support of the orthodoxy, but that should I happen to have even the tiniest thoughts that were outside of the orthodox views that either I had a VERY good reason to have them, or I was either provably wrong. Rarely are those possibilities embraced.