I'm From the Government; I'm Here to Help

Government the omni-incompetent.

There are three legendary lies which are told so often that they've become jokes in a sick sort of way.

Lie #1, which was going around back when I was in high school, is, "Of course I'll respect you in the morning."  Comedian Johnny Carson put it, "I'll respect you like crazy!"

Lie #2 is, "The check is in the mail."  I've been told that one more times than I can count.  Nobody believes it and I'm not sure that the people who say it actually think you'll believe it - it comes with a wink and a nod, even over the phone.

Then there's lie #3, the all-time favorite, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

When I was growing up, everybody expected government to take care of big things and leave small things to us.  The "joke" was that every time government got involved in your business, they fouled up.  We knew instinctively and through painful experience that government was marginally competent at the big stuff, maybe, but virtually useless at handling the small stuff of our day-to-day lives.

By the time Ronald Reagan became President, we had a lot more experience with government fouling up the small stuff like low-flush toilets that wouldn't flush, million dollar public toilets, low-sulfur diesel fuel and biodiesel that freezes up in winter.  As Mr. Reagan put it, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Although our recent economic difficulties are a direct result of government interfering in the housing market by encouraging banks to make loans to people who couldn't pay them back, media folks who've forgotten lie #3 keep describing the problem as a failure of regulation.  They keep bleating that government will have to regulate, that is, interfere more, not less, in order to straighten out the economy.

Those of us who don't think government can handle big things point to the economic success of the Soviet Union.  Their economy was a miserable mess of shortages and over-production under Communism.  Although things improved once some semblance of a free market started to take hold, Mr. Putin is taking control of the Russian economy again, and things are getting stickier once again.

Americans appear to be upset at the amount of our money that's being used to bail out wealthy people, large companies, and well-paid workers, but the media keep calling for more regulation.  Lest you be lulled by their siren song and fail to urge your elected representatives to keep the government out of business, we'll have a nationalized economy and end up with the "British Disease," years of stagnating economy and a slow descent into national poverty.

By now, you may be angrily protesting, "What on earth are you smoking?  Every pundit, professor, and pontificator I see each night on TV is absolutely convinced that our problems are caused by George W. Bush's evil plot to make us all slaves to the corporation and thwart our wonderful government from doing its proper job of protecting us from any possible harm which may befall anyone!  What makes you think you are right, and they are all wet?"

Then you've not been paying attention: examples abound of disastrous side-effects to government rules. As the northern half of the country freezes, we are again reminded of one of the most notorious examples: yet another harmful result of ethanol requirements.

Ethanol in the Small

Those of us who live in snow country have learned to check out our snow blowers before the snow season.  As learning experiences go, there's nothing quite like wrestling an errant carburetor or drive-belt in pelting snow at 10 below with the driveway so mired that you can't take the machine to the shop to teach an errant newbie to have more foresight next year.

Unfortunately, warm-weather checkups aren't foolproof.  You can make sure that the auger turns when you engage the clutch, but without snow, you can't test the clutch under load.  My auger quit after one snow fall and I had to take the recalcitrant device to the shop.

When I told the head mechanic that it wouldn't run with less than full choke, he laughed, and said, "Water in the gasoline."  I protested that I'd been very careful.

"I know you were," he said, "I'm talking about ethanol.  See those vents in the gas cap?  They let air in so gas can flow to the engine.  Air mixes with the gas when it's not running, of course.  The alcohol the government makes them put in the gas absorbs water; what do you think "dry gas" is?  With 10% ethanol, you can imagine how much water's in the gas you're running."

In addition to pushing up food prices so I pay more, in addition to absorbing taxpayer subsidies because it costs so much to make, in addition to not saving the planet at all because it's not really renewable, diluting my gasoline with ethanol means I have to empty my snow blower gas tank after every use.  If I leave gas in the tank, it'll absorb water and the engine won't run next time.

I can't just shut off the engine, no, I have to siphon the gas out of the tank at some danger to life and limb and let the engine run until it's all gone.  This is an innovation; ten years ago, when I was younger and would have been better able to deal with such indignities, it wasn't necessary.  Now, for no particular reason besides government meddling, I can't let gas sit in the tank.  Adult language suppressed.

Our ancestors were right - government may or may not be able to handle the big things, but when it comes to the small details of my life, they mess up royally.

By the way, with gas prices so low, ethanol manufacturers are going broke.  They just asked government to bail them out on top of the subsidies they're already getting.  Write your congresscritterDon't let government try to help!

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
A few tips to solve yer problem Will.

1. When you are done with the snow blower, don't siphon gas out of the tank, instead fill it almost to the top. That removes the air space above the gasoline. Less water-laden air to contaminate the gas. That was standard procedure for gas tractors even before ethanol was added to the mix. Works for diesels too btw.

2. Secondly, take a piece of wax paper larger than the cap and put it over the opening, then screw on the cap, but not real tight. Now there will be no vent. That is why gas stored in a gas can does not absorb water. BTW, take out the wax paper before using the engine.

Always willing to help the common sense challenged experts. You can thank me later.

But, while the subject really is ethanol, one of my questions has never been answered. 30 years ago, corn was the same price it is today because of southern corn leaf blight. And, it stayed there for about 2 years. Ah, yes, we had to deal with all that N and T cytoplasm corn for the next year or two. But I digress.... A box of corn flakes cost $0.55 back then. Now it cost $2.00 - $3.00, yet the price of corn is the same. Why is that? Yet the left and the right insist on blaming ethanol for increasing the price of food.

For those that don't know or care, corn and wheat prices are around 50% off their summer prices. Anyone see any reductions in bread and corn flake prices?...I haven't seen any either.
December 29, 2008 11:27 AM
I agree with Cows. There's something else going on when it comes to food prices. Ethanol isn't to blame. At least, not as the main cause. The wild swings over the past few years are not consistent with ethanol changes. This is not say that the promotion of ethanol is necessarily good.
December 29, 2008 12:24 PM
Me, thinks, Ifon, that the economists protest too much. Not so long ago, gasoline consumption went down maybe 5% and oil prices dropped by 1/3. Small perturbations of supply can rigger much bigger price swings. That's why the Democrats were such idiots to claim that drilling in Alaska would not drop the price because it wouldn't supply much. I am convinced that turning 10-15% of our corn in to car fuel had a big effect on prices even if the economists won't admit it.

As for CowsNPlows pointing out that cereal prices didn't go down, why should they? There are FAR fewer major cereal sellers than gasoline sellers. Having found that we were willing to pay higher prices for corn flakes, when corn prices went down, why should we expect the producers to give customers a break? There are very few cereal makers; it amounts to an oligopoly. They are probably not colluding; they don't have to. None of them wants to drop the price.

Prices are always sticky downward. The only reason gas prices go down is that there are enough sellers that SOMEONE will spoil the party, and gas prices have not gone down proportionately to oil prices.
December 29, 2008 9:01 PM
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