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Lemme ask yuz summin..

6/18/2010

Is it really a disaster? A problem, sure. An engineering disaster no doubt. A personal disaster for the families of the people killed and the people who are losing jobs because of the blowout and the response to the blowout, absolutely. And a PR disaster for everyone involved in Federal government and British Petroleum.

But every news article I've read has a quote from some guy who is unemployed and making a buck by ferrying media stringers and government officials to the oil slick and back.

That's a stroke of luck.

When I worked in Camden, NJ we had a blizzard. Three feet of snow fell in March. The city government, or rather somebody in city government, had auctioned off the city snowplows to a "private contractor" (ayyy..yo...ayyy...we got a good deal on some 'quipment. Yuz gotta problem widit?) a couple of years before, so only state roads were being plowed. My boss, God love him, was worried that the old and infirm, the drug-addled and ridiculous, who lived in his housing development wouldn't be able to get to the store. There was no store for miles, but I think you can understand what kind of "store" I mean. So he took his truck and bought about a hundred snow shovels in the days leading up to the storm, then came and picked me up at home and drug me out with him to "arm the citizenry" and pay anyone willing five bucks an hour to move the snow off of the city streets in and around the neighborhood. Some people did help, mostly kids with nothing else to do. Someone also had the smarts to collect as many of the free shovels from as many people as he could and sell them at the foot of the Admiral Wilson Blvd for as much as eighty bucks a pop.

I learned a bunch of lessons first-hand that day. You see, my boss had bought nearly every snow shovel for sale in South Jersey, with my paycheck money. He gave them away, for free, and never expected them back. Private citizens all over South Jersey were either unable to buy snow shovels, or forced to pay a hideous markup for second-hand "black market" goods, and in the end, the state government had to come in and plow the roads in North Camden anyway.

My lesson? Wealth redistribution doesn't work, particularly if it's my wealth that's being redistributed. In addition, if you really want to raise the price of a commodity, bottleneck the supply through government control. And the last one was that the market will out, any good that the government subsidizes will be re-sold on the black market to the people who actually want it and need it, at prices approaching or exceeding retail.

I've seen it with baby formula, antibiotics, building materials and diapers in addition to the snow shovels.

Another thing I learned was that it would have been much less of a disaster if the people who could actually help with the situation were asked to help with the situation in the first place. The state came in only after several days of hysterical reporting on the state of the roads in South Jersey. Front-page stories about my boss' "initiative" didn't help things, seeing as there were no snow shovels left for anyone else, and no one from the news ever asked the young man selling snow shovels at the airport circle where he managed to find so many. If my boss hadn't panicked, regular people would have been able to dig themselves out for a lot less money, the roads in North Camden wouldn't have been in any worse shape, the state would still have plowed them eventually, and my paycheck wouldn't have bounced. In addition, the state would have collected sales tax on the shovels that it didn't because my boss bought them through a non-profit.

My point? If I have one, it's that I want to go to Goodwill and buy up all of the white shirts and towels I can, cut them up, box them up, throw them in the back of the Volvo and drive down to the Gulf. Then sell them to the volunteers washing rocks and birds and charge five times what I paid.



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