Several readers have suggested that this country ought to reappraise its oil industry.
No two letters are the same in detail, but all of them say there must be a better way to find oil, import oil and distribute oil than the private enterprise system that has served us thus far.
A typical exposition of this viewpoint is at hand from W. E. Shea of Springfield. He writes:
"The time has long passed when petroleum products should have been recognized as a public utility. Our oil companies should be placed under the restraints of a fuel commission.
"The sad fact is that the people of the United States have allowed the petroleum dealers a free hand in dealing with the oil-producing countries as though the petroleum dealers were the State Department.
"The problem has escalated from one of protecting the right of an industry to make an honest profit to one of survival for millions of people whose lives depend on the energy, heat and transportation provided by petroleum products.
"The excessive markups applied from the oil well to the consumer are a major cause of inflation. Only after the production and sale of petroleum products has been placed on a fair and equitable basis can we turn to the producers and negotiate reasonable prices for their oil. As long as excessive profits can be made from unrestricted price increases, those who gain from such increases will oppose the development of new sources of energy -- a field that should also be placed under control of a national fuel commission."
A letter from a Takoma Park man contained these two paragraphs: "The producers have a cartel, the consumers do not. Economic power is therefore centered in the hands of the producers. The American people will continue to be victimized until their government realizes that changing times call for new techniques.
"It should be made illegal for any oil to be imported into this country except through a single buying agency run by the United States government. Even that wouldn't give us the clout OPEC already has, but it would put us into a far better position than we're in now. And it would put an immediate stop to the free enterprise bidding wars that have raised "spot" prices for oil to utterly unconscionable levels of private greed."
There appears to be enough merit in suggestions of this kind to warrant a closer examination of precisely what would be entailed in the various plans, and how they would work. Are we talking about the kinds of regulations that govern public utilities? Are we talking about nationalization? About something in between?
Until a specific and detailed proposal is put forward, and close scrutiny of it indicates that it has merit, I tend to be skeptical.
Too many well-intentioned government programs have become bottomless pits into which billions of tax dollars have been poured.
Housing for the poor, a worthy undertaking, has become marked by fraud, theft and bureaucratic bungling. Legislation designed to help woman, minorities and small businessmen has been abused, misused and sabotaged. The government has levied fines but done nothing to people who didn't pay them. The government has buried good furniture in landfills so that there would be an excuse to spend millions for new furniture from favored suppliers.
Water bills aren't sent out. Banks that cashed forged government checks nine years ago still haven't been forced to pay for their mistakes. Defaulted mortgages have gone uncollected for years because the government just never got around to foreclosing on them and repossessing the mortgaged property.
The government's central purchasing agency, born of Herbert Hoover's determination to bring efficiency and honesty to the federal government, has been racked with scandal because of its inefficiency and dishonesty. In short, there appears to be no government project, however noble in purpose, that is immune from the ravages of dishonesty and ineptness.
Would we really be better off if we were to transform our oil industry into a cartel run by a vast new government bureaucracy? Until I hear persuasive arguments in support of that proposition, I prefer to rely on the private greed system that is now in place.
I'd like to see greed regulated and controlled, but it does serve a purpose.
When society wants something done, it can offer no stronger motivation than an opportunity for individuals to better themselves by doing what needs to be done for the betterment of society. AND THEN THERE WERE THREE
This definition of "Russian trio" is making the rounds on Capitol Hill: "A quartet that has just returned from a tour of the West."