James Howard Kunstler prescribes leeches for your gas price induced high blood pressure:
A true Progressivism would concern itself with the comprehensive reform of all land use laws, policies, codes, and tax incentives that promote more new car-dependent suburban development. A new Progressivism would put dwindling public monies into the re-activation of our harbors and shipping infrastructure. We're going to need it. It would direct remaining agricultural subsidies into explictly organic, local farming enterprises, not to the Archer Daniel Midland corporation. It would revive the legal practice of restricting monopolies in business. It has to lead us in the direction of making other arrangements for how we live.As the world awakens to the possibility that we are enjoying today as much oil as we'll ever have and that the future may not involve cheap gas, food, or metals ever again, the temptation arises for those who are smarter than the rest of us (at least in their own estimation) to begin to make other arrangements on our behalf.
The obvious problem, of course, is that the American public doesn't want to make other arrangements.
The first Progressive Era began in the late 19th Century as industrial capitalism began to produce so much wealth that the government decided that in the interests of fairness it would take upon itself the job of allocating that wealth. It peaked in the second decade of the 20th Century with the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the War to End All Wars, and carried over in the socialization of nearly all the risks of living (deposit insurance, full employment policies, Social Security). Under communism - established in Russia at the same time the US got its permanent income tax - the government stole everything first and mandated production through central planning. Under corporate capitalism, the government allowed individuals to produce and later stole most of the profit. It was only the fact that industrial capitalism was able to out-produce the thefts by its government that the West has managed to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union thus far.
But should Peak Oil or a dollar crash or bird flu manage to crater our confidence-based economy and paper money, the dilemma - in the face of angry and disillusioned voters - will be a stark one: either the government must free the economic system to produce efficiently with fewer inputs or it must step in to manage scarce resources through negotiation (think "campaign contributions") and compulsion. In other words, once our easy money society bites us in the butt, we will need to choose real capitalism (as opposed to our current corporatism) or full-blown socialism. Unfortunately most Peak Oil adherents, however correct they are in diagnosing the disease, prefer the latter as a cure. They propose that government-directed agricultural subsidies and infrastructure projects be designed to save us all, whether or not we desire to be saved according to their wisdom.
As correct as Kunstler is that the government has no business subsidizing ADM, he fails to see that taking money from people to give to those newer companies that will most directly benefit from the unavailability of inexpensive oil-based products (like smaller farms and railroads) is but another chance for the government to rob Peter to pay Peter back - after taking his required cut, of course.
If the government would simply decide that having millions of workers producing nothing but income tax forms and other legalistic busywork is a luxury that we can no longer afford, we might be able to produce enough for ourselves, even without the incredible bounty of cheap oil. But if they decide that the free choices of Americans will be overruled by law, then we can look forward to the equality of poverty that is the universal byproduct of the command economy.
It would be comforting if Peak Oilers realized that our currently-unsustainable lifestyle is a result of the printed money of the first Progressive Era as much as cheap oil - that way they might put a little less trust in those whose most important product is consumer confidence. But as is always the temptation when given an opportunity to harness the power of government, they appear to relish the chance to rise and save us from ourselves.