Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Insufficient Diet

In a land not very far away, in a time just minutes ago, there was a village called Amerika. It was a place of about one thousand people, all fed by a single farmer, Paul. This farmer was the only man on his workforce; he planted all the vegetables, slaughtered all the pigs and chickens, built all farming structures, and maintained all his equipment. In fact, he didn't even use any power tools; he had nothing but manual tools.

But the people of the village did not think highly, if they thought at all, about farmer Paul. "He's selfish," they complained. "Our town is barely living by a thread and he has the audacity to keep to himself half of every harvest."

These complaints went on for so long that eventually they reached all the way up to court. People started filing cases like mad, which were dismissed equally mad. All stated the damaged done by farmer Paul was that he kept into his stomach what should have been put in theirs.

For weeks and weeks the judges kept refusing to consider these lawsuits. That is, until the opinion section of the newspaper started becoming filled with calls for the judges to be evicted from their seats. If popular opinion kept on going the way it was, then these judges would be voted out next term. Out of fear for their job, they allowed one case through, which was titled Paul versus the People.

The prosecutor accused Paul of causing harm to the public by withholding what they needed, but Paul defended himself by saying he needed the food just as equally. "The need of one man!" shouted the prosecutor. "The need of one man is equivalent to the need of one thousand? He is so needy that he needs to eat the amount of food that could feed hundreds? Is this not the epitome of selfishness and greed? We're suffering and he's profiting! Profiting on our empty stomachs!" The crowd applauded approvingly; Paul offered nothing.

Influenced by the anger in the crowd, the judge ruled against farmer Paul and ordered that he offer up to the food market three-quarters of his harvest. The crowd celebrated, confidently hopeful that health was on the way; Paul offered nothing.

And for a while people were getting fatter. But soon enough Paul was to find his way around the ruling.

"Local Gilroy's Out of Seeds" headlines read. "Discontent with the ruling that he take only his fair share of the harvest, farmer Paul thundered over to Gilroy's and promptly purchased all the vegetable and fruit seeds. First he stole from out stomachs and now he must steal our backyard gardens? What is the depth of cruelty in a man who would punish us for rightfully taking our sustenance?"

A ruling was quickly made within hours of the judges becoming aware of Paul's doings. It was from then on that it was illegal for Paul to purchase any food at the market, whether it be potential (e.g. seeds) or actual. He was to stick only to what he produced, and he was only to take his fair share.

Over time then the quality of Paul's work declined greatly. "Malnutrition" he reasoned in his newsletters. People wrote him replies of calling him a liar, for after all how could one man starve when he had food that could satisfy two hundred and fifty people? Paul offered nothing in return.

Eventually the village went right back to its prior poor state of health, before the first ruling was made. People were rolling their eyes and saying they didn't need such a terrible farmer as Paul. Newspapers were stating that Paul was incompetent. The opinion section filled with calls for the nationalization of the farm.

The third ruling came weeks later. The government and its employees were to take over all the farming and Paul was to live on welfare and have his meals delivered to him, to assure no greedy appetites should come about.

There was no time for a victory. Less than two weeks later, Paul, the fifty foot tall farmer, died and killed fifty people with the coming-down of his corpse

The town learned its lesson, but a lesson they would never have time to apply. Due to the incompetent of the government workers, everyone else died too.


This is the metaphor that comes to my mind whenever I read unfavorable opinions against Big Oil, about how they're being greedy and taking more than their fair share of the profits. The people that rallied against the giant and the people who rally against Big Oil are both guilty of the same logical fallacy: context dropping. It is always a must that one keep in mind the *entire context* of relevant information before drawing a conclusion, otherwise the chance of falsity increases limitlessly.

You can see what the faulty conclusions of the villagers brought them. They thought of most everything except the requirements of survival for a man who is fifty feet tall, and so thus they forced him into an insufficient diet, ending up killing what they refused to believe was the lifeblood of their village.

We face the same danger today. People are condemning oil companies for the same reasons and calling for the same actions: that their profits be "rightfully" redistributed to the public and that the government nationalize the industry.

But is anyone asking what the requirements of survival is for the oil companies, or how the economy works to begin with? According to the Wall Street Journal, the profits of the oil companies average to about 9% to 11%. That means that the other 91% to 89% is pure expense, money they had to pay to stay in business (employees' paychecks, equipment, etc.). If their profits are only average, then what are people angry about? Some computer companies make over *20%* profit, a much larger margin.

Here we have our context dropping. People are looking at the oil companies' profits listed as a whole number, instead of a percentage, and then quickly concluding "That's way too many digits! Surely they don't need that much do they?"

So then they go on to support actions to lower gas prices that are actually the cause of high prices to begin with. Taxes to punish their greed? They already have high taxes, so higher taxes mean....higher prices! Prohibit drilling? As it stands now, their future oil supply is already uncertain. This is because there is great inconsistency and contradictions in the realm of politics, such as Bush lifting the ban on offshore drilling while Obama seeks to reinforce it. Making the future oil supply even more uncertain means...higher prices!

Worst yet, some people say we should abandon the oil companies and opt for alternative sources of power. As the villagers doubted the giant, people doubt that oil is the lifeblood of our nation, that it can be replaced and we'll be fine. All this despite the fact that billions have been wasted on research with little results and that people are not purchasing or switching (large scale) to what environmentally-friendly technology is available. This should all send the signal that "green" power is just not viable. Not to say that it never will be, only that a mass scale switch right now would deal a near fatal blow to the economy. The rule here is that as technology and knowledge advances and changes, so do the requirements of life. They both progress in symmetry.

So, next time, make sure you have *all* the relevant date before drawing a conclusion. Some lessons of reality cannot be learned by experience, as it may be a fatal lesson. Learn beforehand. If Big Oil is brought down, then their coming-down will surely be just as fatal to us as it was to the villagers.

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