Friday, September 5, 2008

Make Up Your Mind: Are Prices Too High Or Too Low?

I leaned over my drink (dry martini, straight up, extra olive, if you must know) and shook my head. “I don’t mind you taking either side of the argument, Ephesius, but I wish you wouldn’t claim both at the same time. That leaves me with very little to do.”

Ephesius Brachnid and I were at a table at the Falling Anvil pub, now that the Burning Leaf was no longer. What is it with pubs going under, anyway? Do I not drink enough? Do I not attempt to educate my friends over a drink, with which to better lubricate the brain passages? I can hardly keep a pub in business single-handed, and I think I do my share. (I had originally thought of suggesting to Ephesius that we meet at Steamperk, in the Downs and directly across from my residence, but I recalled that the strongest drink I could buy there was espresso, and that never is sufficient to converse with Ephesius.)

“What are you talking about?” he replied. “Your remarks are getting to be as impenetrable as those of Mr. S_____” He mentioned the name of a notorious politician whose oracular pronouncements provided great entertainment to the press and the pundit class as everyone tried to make sense of the cryptic remarks.

“Not at all. Look, we both agree that this nation runs on steam: automobiles, heating, lighting – why, even the famed Steam SkyCity has gears and pistons that are propelled by steam power. And coal generates almost all our steam. Blessed in natural resources as Caledon is, we nevertheless import much of our coal from the far northern provinces. But now that other lands have discovered the virtues of steam power – Steelhead, and Antiquity, and even Winterfell, among others – coal has become much more dear than ever before.”

“So far, we are in agreement.”

“Yes, but is that good or bad? You started by assailing the present administration for allowing this sad state of affairs to come to pass – though you offer no suggestion for how it could have been avoided, short of a pre-emptive war against each of those states for the purpose of keeping them in the age of horse-drawn carriages and burning whale oil – and then complain that those same sad bureaucrats should be excoriated for not providing incentives to use other fuels in place of coal – an outcome that would require coal to become even more dear. First you claim the price is too high, then too low. Well, which is it?”

Ephesius took a sip of his beer and leaned back. “Madam, you twist my words. I do not want to see coal prices go even higher; I merely believe Governor Shang should subsidize other fuels. Caledon has many windy areas, for example – why, we could install wind turbines in the Highlands, adjacent to a Tesla Tower, and generate electricity that way. Surely Miss Avariel Falcon cares not whether she burns coal or harnesses the wind to keep her Towers operating.”

“I have no doubt she would care very much on a calm day. Setting that little objection aside, don’t you see that the implication of your remarks is that coal is too cheap relative to the cost of wind? And how would you pay for this largesse to the wind power industry?”
“A modest tax increase…”

I rolled my eyes. “So I am to pay once to build a wind turbine for the privilege of paying a second time for a power source more expensive than my current option? Mr. Brachnid, you epitomize Mr. Mencken’s expression that no one ‘has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.’ I much prefer the old-fashioned method of allocating coal: when the price goes down, I consume more; when the price rises, I economize.”

“I say, Miss J., you do me an injustice!”

“Drink up, Mr. Brachnid. I do believe the next shout is yours.”

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