Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rush Limbaugh Redux: The "Bash Limbaugh" Express Returns

I should NEVER say that I am going to do someting, or stop doing something.  It just tempts the fate.  For example, yesterday I said I was going to lay off of Rush Limbaugh for awhile, lest it appear that I am a "Limbaugh basher".   Then Rush STARTED off his program this morning by throwing verbal hanging spitballs into my pet peeve wheelhouse, and I feel compelled to knock them out of the part.  (Don't worry too much about that last sentence;  I just got a little carried away with the imagery--with luck, a temporary sickness.)

See yesterday's entries where I noted Rush's schizophrenic attitude toward big business.  One moment he will be calling them the "corporate elite", or otherwise correctly noting that big business and conservatism do not go together.  The next moment he will be FALSELY defending big business (although admittedly, he is usually doing so in terms of OPPOSING either taxes or big government--going too far in such a critical rant being Limbaugh's main fault).  Today, Limbaugh made the mistake of defending Big Oil (something, for some inexplicabl reason, he is wont to do).

Democrats have taken off after Big Oil (which tells you a lot about why Rush has gone overboard the other way).  The specific target of Rush's opening salvo today was the effort to eliminate 18 billion dollars in alleged SPECIAL TAX BREAKS in the oil industry.  As I have said before, there is a reasonable question as to why the oil industry NEEDS tax breaks with oil around $100.00 a barrel.  Nevertheless, I concede that there may be SOME case for them.  Nevertheless, in about a minute, Limbaugh made SEVERAL indefensible statments that are completely stupid:


1.  Eliminating tax breaks will not reduce the price of gasoline (true).  The only QUICK way to reduce the price of gasoline is to reduce the taxes on gasoline (true).  Two true things add up to a total non sequitur and logical abomination.  SO WHAT.  The point of eliminating the alleged tax breaks is what I said above:  What sense does it make, as a matter of TAX POLICY, to give tax breaks (presumably deductions and credits NOT available to businesses in other industries, although that may be a dubious, or oversimplified, assumption) to the oil and gas industry, when both oil and natural gas are near historic HIGHS (as are the profits of energy companies).   Hillary Clinton's idea that the profits of oil companies belong to the government to finance "global warming" programs is absurd.  But so is Limbaugh's implied argument that the Federal Government should SUBSIDIZE the energy industry, at a time when they should not need it.  One of the (correct) criticism of "alternative" energy measures is that they DISTORT the market, and unfairly promote some "solutons", when other "solutions" may be superior--the free market being the best arbiter of this (rather than "central planneing"--see earlier entry today).   Does Rush think that these "tax breaks" are NOT a subsidy of the energy industry?  Well, that is the argument he should make then.  The actual argument is STUPID--a complete non sequitur.

2.  We are subsidizing failure with taxpayer dollars (Bear Stearns government guaranteed bail out, benefitting J.P. Morgan more than any other entity), while PUNISHING productive entities like Big Oil.  This is the "argument" that really got my blood boiling.  It is even more stupid than the one above.  I am NOT going to try to defend using taxpayer money to keep Bear Stearns afloat, by means of a virtual gift to J.P. Morgan--courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.  Again, SO WHAT.  What does that have to do with subsidizing Big Oil?  Absolutely NOTHING.  It is another coplet non sequitur.  Even worse, it is a non sequitur, as to Big Oil, which is FALSE (unlike the true non sequiturs in paragraph 1).  There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that Big Oil has been especially "productive".  As I have shown repeatedly in this blog, Big Oil became BIG NOT by producing all kinds of oil (in which case the price of oil would be lower).  Big Oil became big by BUYING OIL ON THE STOCK EXCHANGES.  Exxon gobbled up Mobil, Gulf, and others.  Chevron and Texacoused to be separate companies.   So did Conoco and Phillips.  There are MANY other oil and energy companies that have disappeared in mergers for which there is NO ppublic policy excuse.  Thosse mergers should have been STOPPED    As I said yesterday, oil companies deserve no "credit" for producing oil  That is what they are supposed to do, in a free market as they pursue their own self-interest.  Where is the EVIDENCE that theey have been especially prodcutive at drilling and producing more oil?  There is certainly no such evidence in the PRICE.  Big Oil profits are NOT because they have been super efficient in the finding and production of oil  They have been because of shortages, or fears of shortages, in oil (meaning NOT ENOUGH oil is being produced).  In fact, the EVIDENCE is that there is less of a "free market" in oil now--at least partly because of these BIG MERGERS.   How does eliminating SUBSIDIES for Big Oil "punish productivity"?  That truely stupid argument assumes, basically, that ALL PROFITS ARE DUE TO PRODUCTIVITY, and that all tax breaks should last forever (even if they no longer make sense).  Limbaugh seems to be saying that ANY government action that reduces profits is bad (a position I think is close to what he actually seems to think, or at least argue), even if that action is merely the repeal of tax breaks which enhanced profits in the first place.   IF tax breaks are eliminated, Big Oil would NOT be "punished for success" (at least assumig the tax breaks are a subsidy).  Big Oil would be merely being told that they no longer NEEDED a SUBSIDY.  Rush's implication that all tax subsidies should last forever is simply ridiculous.  What makes Rush's argument really stupid is that he is using an example that is an argument for the other side.  If it is wrong for taxpayers to subsidize J.P. Morgan, why is it RIGHT for taxpayers to subsidize Big Oil (with LESS reason)?   You (or Rush) say that the bail out of Bear Stearns is a direct use of public funds, as distinct from a tax break?  That is a distinction without a difference.   Consider that $15,000 "tax credit" that is being proposed in Congress for people who buy foreclosed upon houses.  Is that not the SAME as an expenditure of public funds?  Of course it is.  Other taxpayers have to make up for it.  Now I actually sympathize with the idea that it is good for ANY taxpayer to have his, her, or its tax bill reduced (which is actually, I think, where Rush is coming from).  But that does not change the principle involved here.  If you SUBSIDIZE one taxpayer, then you are forcing the rest of the taxpayers to make up that deficiency (maybe they could get a general tax CUT, if not for special subsidies to certain taxpayers).  While a tax credit or deduction is not always the equivalent of a government expdenditure, in the Bear Stearns/Big Oil situation they have exactly the same effect. 

I feel strongly about this.  We subsidize farmers, often including big farmers who do not need it.  We subsidize too many things.  Big Oil does not need a subsidy.  Even if there is some good public policy reasons for the particular subsidies involved here (I am not sure thre are--given that the market should decide how these resources are allocated), Rush Limbaugh is NOT arguing those reasons.  He is making completely FALSE, irrelevant arguments that amount to nothing more than a subterfuge for the idea that it is always bad for the Federal Government to get more money.  This is, of course, a position with which I sympathize, but I think it is obvious that this principle should be upheld by general RATE CUTS, and NOT by special tax breaks--espe for people and companies who should not need them (especially if they are "productive"), in this time of high oil and natural gas prices.

I really wish Rush would stop going off on these false trails, as he opposes whatever leftist Democrats are doing.  See yesterday's entries.  I really would like to stop bashing him, but he is going to have to do better than this.  I am afraid I have to withdraw my "promise" to stop "bashing Limbaugh, until he stops bashing principles I feel strongly about (including the--correct--idea that big corporate mergers violate free market theory). 

Rush:  help me out here.  I really don't want to be known as the "bash Limbaugh express".  I respect you too much.  Hoever, I think you have a major blind spot here (a blind spot too often shared by conservatives and Repubicans in general--this reflexive "defense" of big business, whether big business deserves the "defense" or not).

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