Monday, May 16, 2005

My New Title: Free Market Czar 

Don't get me wrong, I'm no socialist, but when I glimpse all the goodies I'm missing out on, I want to have my free market cake and eat it too. You see, I often hear things like, "The market is smarter than any individual." All I know is, whatever individual made up that one wasn't exactly tooting his own horn. But if the market is so smart, how do you explain things like: peanut butter jelly beans, noodle fans, and main stream media?

So I hereby annoint myself Czar of the Free Market. From now on, market forces will still drive most goods hither and thither, but with a few Czar-mandated improvements added to wise the market up:

  1. Henceforth, NBA game video will be distributed over the internet so I can watch my Lakers, no matter where I live. BitTorrent would already do this legally today if it weren't for a local burp in the free market's digestive system. The NBA suits can charge some money for it; in fact, I hereby decree the price to be 52 cents per game. Why not? Or, if they were as smart as I am -- I have to be smart, I'm the Czar -- they would realize that the extra international exposure would increase global sales of Lebron James' jerseys enough to cover the costs all by itself. And the rest of that revenue, my friends, is all green gravy. How smart is that free market looking now?

  2. Good American cheddar cheese must be made available in Israel, immediately. I haven't had a decent plate of cheese-covered nacho chips in ages. I don't know exactly how this should be done, whether you have to ship American cow embryos to Israel so we can raise proper cheddar herds, or if it is just a matter of a continuous FedEx airlift dropping nightly coolers by parachute. These details I delegate to the free market, let it do the dirty work, that's what it is for. I, meanwhile, have to move on to more important matters -- but please, someone ping me when this one is solved, I'm really hungry.

  3. Now, for my important decision: from now on, we will all drive electric or hybrid vehicles. The market can make these, it even does to a certain extent, and is starting to slowly build up a customer base. But it is waaaay too slow. Do you really think our pushers, the mullahs, shieks, princes and ayatollahs, are going to just sit around, waiting decades for us to detox at our leisure? No, we need a Petrol-anon intervention, and we need it now -- and I'm just the Czar to bring the cold turkey.

Bottom line: I really want to trust the free market, but will it always find the answers we need? Maybe for NBA Games, and Cheddar Cheese, we have room for error and can afford to wait while the market settles into successive equilibriums. But some questions are almost existential in their importance, with little room for error; for instance: how to manage our oil depency. Do we really let the market just pick the lowest cost solution at each moment in time, sucking every last subsidized drop out of the ground while it's cheap, and then choosing horse and buggy as the cheapest solution the next day?

Oil's impending demise has long been foretold, so it has become a prophecy easily ignored. Meanwhile, we allow the cheap price of oil to seduce us away from taking steps to protect ourselves, apparently content to wait for Hollywood-style scientists to invent magic solutions the day before the oil runs out. When you consider the risks we face in oil markets, mostly controlled by interests inherently inimical to us, it strikes me as unbelievable that we simply pocket the cheap prices and guzzle until we're glutted. At the risk of sounding like a peanut farmer, if I truly could be "Czar for a day", I'd be sorely tempted to nudge the market for oil consumption toward hybrid and electric cars, with nuclear power generation for the grid and drastically improved battery technology for delivery. Of course, as a Czar, I'd be clever enough to avoid past mistakes.

The market doesn't seem to see it my way. I hope it's smarter than I am.
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