May 24, 2004

Paean to Petrol

Pete Du Pont (who lost a GOP Presidential primary debate when his opponent pointed out that his name was "Pierre") writes an excellent semi-regular column in the WSJ called "Outside the Box."

Today he offers some facts on gas that you may not hear in other media outlets:

And in spite of what you read in the paper--outrageous gasoline prices entered into Google gets you 15,000 links--its current inflation-adjusted price of $2 a gallon is about its median price over its 85-year existence, and with the exception of the 1980s spike, it has been steadily declining over the decades.
Better still, improving technology has increased the number of miles one can drive on a gallon of gasoline, to 22 in 2000 from about 13.5 in the early 1970s . So the cost of gasoline per mile driven has fallen nearly in half, from more than 13 cents to a bit more than seven cents.

Meanwhile median income for a family of four (in inflation-adjusted dollars) has increased to more than $63,000 today from less than $46,000 in the 1970s.

Family income is up, and the cost per mile driven is down, so as a percentage of income, gasoline costs are substantially less and are an economical bargain for all of our families.

Burning gasoline is very much cleaner than it was 20 years ago too. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead emissions have nearly disappeared; carbon monoxide is down 62%, sulfur dioxide 52%, nitrogen dioxide 24% and ground-level ozone (smog) 18%.

Cleaner fuel, cheaper fuel and better mileage mean greater access to the things that matter in life. Gasoline-powered cars are a very good thing indeed.

We're not going to all die tomorrow because some folks enjoy driving little trucks (and Johngalt likes big trucks)?

Innovation got us from there to here. If the gub'mint doesn't help too much, I think it will take us forward into better energy sources -- Pierre thinks so too.

Posted by jk at May 24, 2004 12:05 PM

The "gub'mint" is helping though. Even the National Renewable Energy Lab, home to high tech windmills and solar panels, does quite a bit of research with internal combustion engines. Direct injection, charge stratification, ultra high temperature ceramic materials, non-fossil based fuels, all in the name of increasing the efficiency of the old IC engine.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at May 24, 2004 12:41 PM

I am skeptical of the return on gub'mint research versus private sector, competition based research but I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to dispute your claims.

Posted by: jk at May 24, 2004 04:03 PM

I AM knowledgable enough on this JK and your suspicions are correct. I didn't want to bring it up though because it's a long discussion. Let's just say this - what do you suppose happens to the flow of research cash once the research is successful? Government funded research, like all government bureaucracies, is a process not a service.

Posted by: johngalt at May 24, 2004 11:36 PM

Yes, there is plenty of government research that is "self sustaining" in that there is no incentive to finish when it could cost you your job,and yes there is plenty of government research that has no redeeming social value beyond jobs for a senator's constituents, but not all of it falls in these two categories. Some is undertaken in partnership with corporations where the government funds the high level research or proof of concept and then disseminates the info to corporations who can capatilize on it to make profitable products. I'll toss out the internet and jet aircraft as examples. The IC engine research I mentioned is in partnership with researchers at Ford and GM and will likely lead to an extended life for the IC engine with improved efficiency and reduced emissions.

Posted by: silence dogood at May 25, 2004 06:15 PM

Government funded research disseminated to corporations who capitalize on it...

Isn't this what lefties generally refer to as "corporate welfare?"

Posted by: johngalt at May 25, 2004 08:32 PM

Yes I have heard that complaint from the Left. I however am not a believer in that concept. There is no reason that government spending cannot further the cause of a government project and a commercial one. The Jeep for example owes it existance to the US Army. So too do advanced materials used in everything from aircraft to golf clubs.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at May 27, 2004 12:09 PM

And don't forget "Tang!"

Just kidding -- while I doubt the efficacy of government funded research, I'm not a vocal opponent. On a scale of money wasted and damage done by government programs, scientific and medical research is pretty low on both counts. There are a million other places I'd prefer to see cuts.

And yet I am not conceding the point that private research has likely contributed far more to the innovations than public research has.

Posted by: jk at May 27, 2004 12:21 PM
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