Can you spare some compassion for the workers?

I want to tell you about my friend Tom. Tom went to college but graduated a few years ago and could not find a good job. After months of searching, he ended up working as a bartender. He worked five days a week from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Tom didn’t like the hours of his job and he didn’t like working in a bar. But it was a job and he did his best. After tips, he made about $35k per year.

Six months ago, Tom got offered a job by an oil company. It just so happens that I live in northern Colorado, where there is an oil and gas boom of epic proportions. Tom’s starting salary? $50k per year, with the potential to make $70k within a year or so. Tom’s working hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and his company gave him a brand new truck to drive on the work site.

Tom’s story is not unique. I know literally a dozen people who are either working for an oil company or working for a company that provides services to an oil company. They all tell the same story: starting salaries are great, working conditions are great, and they feel part of something that is growing and has a future.

In Tom’s case, he recently got married, and he says one of the reasons he was able to make the commitment of marriage is that he now has a stable job making more money. He plans on buying a house soon. Importantly, he feels his marriage will be more stable if he is not working at a bar until 2 a.m. but instead is home for dinner every night.

People seem to forget that good jobs make for good families and for stable communities. From a Gospel perspective, it seems obvious to me that we should favor policies that allow the creation of new high-paying jobs in the private sector.

Unfortunately, many people seem to favor the latest left-wing cause rather than having compassion for the American worker. Make no mistake: most of these causes are favored by people who work in academia or government. Most of these causes claim to want to “save” one thing or another. But the proponents of these causes could care less about Tom and the literally millions of other people who need a good job today.

In Weld County, which is the center of the oil boom in Northern Colorado, the unemployment rate has fallen from over 11 percent in 2010 to less than 4 percent today. The oil and gas boom is causing a construction boom and an employment boom. Let me explain how this works and how this benefits everybody.

Oil and gas companies generally pay 20 to 40 percent more than other industries. So if you are working at Wal Mart for $9/hour, and you see that an oil company is offering $13/hour you are likely to take that job. After Wal Mart loses enough employees, they start raising wages. This spreads throughout the economy, causing wage increases for everybody.

Where I live, there are “help wanted” signs literally everywhere you go. Companies are desperate to hire. Yes, many people still make $9/hour, but companies, even fast food companies, will quickly raise their wages to keep employees. So it is very common to see people in low-skill jobs making $10/hour or more after only three months on the job. Because of the huge demand for workers, people are promoted very quickly, so there are new opportunities for advancement into management. It is not uncommon to hear stories from people who started a job at $8.50/hour being promoted to manager at $15/hour within a year.

The fascinating thing is that this boom is most beneficial to the “working class.” One young woman in my ward just graduated from high school and is studying to be a welder. A welder, you say? Yes, because starting welders can easily make $40k a year, and it is extremely common for welders with three or four years’ experience to make $100k a year in northern Colorado.

People making more money means more demand for houses, so there are more jobs in construction. People making more money means more demand for cars, so car sales are booming. This process has spread throughout the economy.

Meanwhile, local governments are making more money from taxes, so new schools and infrastructure are being built.

This virtuous cycle of economic growth caused by the private sector is the foundation of American prosperity. But I have also noticed a huge uptick in general optimism and hope among my neighbors. A growing, vibrant economy offers people opportunities, not just for material things, but for creating stable home environments. Stagnant or sinking economies mean depression and anxiety; growing economies create hope.

This post is not about whether or not one technology or another is “safe.” People who hate fossil fuels tend to ignore the face that all sources of energy have risks. Solar energy (which I favor) has risks that many don’t consider. Wind turbines (which I also favor) are killing millions of birds and bats, including endangered species like the bald eagle.

For those concerned about fracking and other extraction technologies, let’s put it this way: I live in an area surrounded by fracking. I literally put my money where my mouth is by making a large investment in my house. I spent time talking to geologists about the risks of fracking before moving here. I have zero fears about fracking, a technology that has been around for decades, contaminating my water or causing earthquakes. Those supposed risks are hugely exaggerated, as detailed in this article from a neutral source.

Some day decades from now we will look back at our time and laugh at how we used to get energy. If we can learn anything from history, it is that new technologies are certain to come along, and I predict that fossil fuels will eventually be replaced by something else as an energy source.

It is also true that the last few months have shown us that the oil and gas business can be a fickle one. Many extraction companies are likely to go out of business because of plummeting oil prices. Some of these companies may even be in northern Colorado. But history also shows that eventually these jobs will return, and in the meantime companies are still hiring, at least where I live.

In the meantime, we have a human crisis, which is that many opportunities for American prosperity are dwindling. The American worker is suffering from higher prices and fewer career options. We have, in my opinion, a moral obligation to support the few areas of the economy where workers can still find jobs and pursue prosperity. Can you spare no compassion for these forgotten people, these forgotten American workers? I hope you can.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

41 thoughts on “Can you spare some compassion for the workers?

  1. Geoff, I fully agree with your analysis. Our government seems to want to find any way it can to drive good paying jobs overseas. Instead, we need to expand industry here, providing opportunities for Americans to make a decent wage.

  2. Geoff, speaking as someone who works in the oil and gas industry, I am continually amazed at the willful ignorance and outright deception at play in the anti-fracking arguments. It’s largely academic until commodity prices rise again, and they will, but I thought that the democrats and their allies liked and believed in science. I guess everything has its limits, and science that contradicts the dogma of the Church of Environmentalism must not be science at all.

    As for solar and wind power, there has never been a boondoggle like it. There are useful applications of both technologies at this point, and there may be advances, but how anyone thinks that the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, to pick one high profile example, is anything but a monstrously bad idea and a blight on our planet is something that escapes me. (Unless you find amuzement in flash-frying migratory birds in flight, creating a nuisance to pilots in a heavily travelled air corridor, a blinding distraction to drivers on I-15, the destruction of thousands of acres of desert habitat depended upon by various endangered species, the creation of a shockingly severe hot spot in the environment, even by Mojave Desert standards, among other things.) To spend ten times the money on a plant that works only half as well as advertised, and has environmental and economic costs that far outweigh any demonstrable impact of a nice, small and clean combined cycle natural gas facility is lunacy. But that’s California in a nutshell.

  3. The energy sector is the lifeblood of the economy. Right now, we rely on a mix of energy, service, and finance. But without energy none of the others could exist. It’s a shame that we have such vast natural resources and we’re barely tapping into it. A national which is more rich is able to not only care for its own better, but deal with the inevitable environmental shocks.

    At the same time, I’m also thrilled whenever I see people doing well thanks to the growth of the energy related jobs. If we want our economy to grow, drill (responsibly) baby, really is a good mantra.

  4. New Mexico has the 4th largest natural gas reserves in the US. Our lone Repbublican congressman has been working hard to get the green light to tap into that reserve. It would mean thousands of jobs for his district, but also serve to boost the state overall. He has a very uphill battle here. The other 4 members of Congress are all supported heavily by the Sierra Club and others who are against fracking.

    My husband’s grandmother used to keep a jar of shale oil on her kitchen counter with the hope that one day the technology would exist to extract it from the land. That day is here … now if government would just get out of the way…

  5. Good comments. No disrespect for NM intended, Joyce, but it seems that the NM economy is constantly stagnant because of politics there. Colorado is filled with people who moved from Albuquerque and Santa Fe because they couldn’t find jobs. (Personally, I think NM is beautiful but I could never move there because the economy is so bad). NM is a great example of how left-wing politics ruins a potentially prosperous state.

  6. So I’ve two main reasons against it that could probably be debunked, but research in this area is pretty low on my list.

    1. Oklahoma should not have more earthquakes than California.
    2. Why do we need to build a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, why not refine it closer to the source, then move it from there?

    I’m all for workers, but what happens to these workers and communities when the wells dry up?

  7. Frank,
    Answers for you:

    1) OK does have lots of small earthquakes. Fracking is certainly a plausible reason for this. Most people in the state seem to be able to live with it. I would be leery about going full steam ahead on fracking in geologically sensitive areas like CA. Go slow for a while and see if the earthquakes increase.
    2)The pipeline would be needed even if the refineries all got built in Alberta and North Dakota. It is just cheaper to transport crude or refined products via pipeline than by truck or rail.

  8. “A 2012 report from the Department of Interior using United States Geological Survey (USGS) states

    USGS’s studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” causes the increased rate of earthquakes [of magnitude 3.0 and larger]. USGS’s scientists have found, however, that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

    The translation? Fracking may well cause rumbling in and around areas when the water used in it is disposed of, but it doesn’t have a connection to the increase in the sorts of earthquakes people are talking about in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

    Even activists at green groups such as Clean Water Action acknowledge that fracking isn’t linked to serious earthquake activity. Earlier this year after a 4.4 earthquake in Los Angeles, Mother Jones asked Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action about that quake’s connection to fracking. “We are not saying that this quake is a result of an injection” of wastewater, Grinberg said in an article tendentiously titled “Was the Los Angeles Earthquake Caused by Fracking Techniques?”

    Given the animus against fracking, which is an old technique, once-beloved by environmentalists, and largely responsible for decreases in American greenhouse-gas emissions, expect fracking to be spuriously linked to more and more problems, real and imagined.”

  9. I would like to repeat: all methods of getting energy have potential problems. Still, I am in favor of all of them (as long as we let the market, not government, decide). Meanwhile, we need jobs and we need gas and oil. The anti-fracking craze is short-sighted and silly.

  10. Geoff, you would be hard pressed to find a single solar or wind project in this country that was not directly or indirectly funded by the government. Every single one I am aware of would never have been built except various state have mandated renewable portfolio standards on the utilities operating in their states. Even in places where Google, for instance, has invested in renewabe projects, they have only been able to sell their expensive electricity because the utilities have no other choice but to buy it regardless of the price. In short, the market has done nothing to encourage solar and wind development.

  11. Geoff, you are exactly right about New Mexico. There is so much incestuous political corruption here. I think every time they do one of those “Most corrupt state” polls, NM always flips with Louisiana for first.

    This year, for the first time in 60+ years, Republicans will control the State House, you should have seen and heard the panic from the other side. My favorite comment was from a Dem state rep from Santa Fe, “We will be excluded from the committees and we won’t be able to make an impact.” My response, “Oh like you all have done for the last forever, to anyone that is not lock step with you all?” Of course, time will tell what the GOP does with this new found opportunity here, so I am cautiously optimistic, but not expecting much. There are other reasons New Mexico is in constant stagnation, but that has more to do with the culture than politics.

  12. Thanks, Geoff B and el oso.

    For the pipeline, I’d prefer they piped the less hazardous stuff, which I believe is the refined material. Piping so much stuff that’s so bad for the environment if something goes wrong seems like bad business.

  13. Please also give credit to the Affordable Care Act for decreasing the unemployment rate. A lot of people with pre-existing conditions could not afford to work because they would have to give up Medicaid. Now, they can find insurance coverage. It is also a boon to small businesses, for which there are many opportunities whenever there is an economic boom. Now people can start a small business, even if they have a wife with diabetes or kid with asthma.

  14. Naismith, I think you have it exactly backwards. The economy is struggling precisely because of Obamacare. Even the White House admits that Obamacare will kill 2.5 million jobs, but of course they spin this as a good thing because people will no longer have to work. Obamacare provides an incentive for companies to fire full-time employees and hire part-time employees, so it hurts working families who need a full-time salary to survive. Small businesses under 50 employees are exempt from Obamacare, so I am not sure how you think it could benefit them. Small business growth is actually way down compared to recent economic periods, so your claim that Obamacare helps people start small businesses is not supported by the facts.

    Anybody who has looked for a job lately knows that the economy is much softer than it should be. There are a few bright spots — like the oil business and some high tech industries — but overall it is very tough out there. And if you are old enough like I am to compare our economy to the 1980s and 1990s it is very clear that we are suffering through a very long stagnation. Obamacare is one of the reasons.

  15. The ACA is the worst piece of legislation enacted by a single party in the history of the US. In order to give 15% of the population medical care, 85% of the population was disenfranchised, denied affordable coverage, had their self-selected insurance scuttled, and have been treated like children who can’t make decisions on their own. It was based on lies; our supposed leaders, from Obama on down, lied repeatedly before and after it was passed about the costs, the supposed savings, access and benefits. Every person I know who was self-insured or who had employer-provided coverage has lost under this despicable farce of a law. It’s wonderful that a few have gained coverage, but at what expense? The Republicans repeatedly submitted healthcare bills, which were totally ignored by the Democrat majority. This could have been handled so much better, but better is not in the progressive vocabulary. “Equality” is their watchword, which translates to equal misery for everyone except those in charge.

  16. Frank,

    You have it backwards. There is a much higher risk in trucking hazardous materials than in piping it. Trucks have a higher accident rates than pipelines, rail, or ships. And then there are the energy savings of piping versus hauling. And if you haul, you are increasing congestion. Lots of reasons why a pipeline really makes more sense, especially when you look at the volume of mass transferred.

  17. Naiasmith, the most commonly used figure for the unemployment rate is based on the number of people who have been actively seeking employment in the past few three months. So even if PPACA does bring a new set of people into the labor force, it doesn’t help the unemployment rate at all because statistically speaking, that set of people was never “unemployed” in the first place.

  18. It is interesting to consider the difference between having no job, having a menial job (as in the case of Tom, the bartender), having a job that pays well (as in Tom and the many other in Colorado benefitting from the fracking industry) and having a job that pays well and builds a new future (small businesses involved in innovative research, such as firms that apply for and win Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contracts).

    While there is no doubt that it’s better to have a job than none, and better to have a job that pays a living wage rather than a menial job that isn’t sufficiently stable to fulfill personal and community hopes and dreams, I would prefer it if we all engaged in those jobs that build a better tomorrow that won’t collapse when natural resources are expended.

    There is a parable that applies here: Give a man a fish and he will be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will be able to feed himself for his entire life.

    Speaking of which, I’ve got a tank of bluegill on my counter – looking forward to feeding myself and my family fish this fall (not to mention loads of veggies between now and then).

  19. Meg, even in the new economy there will be a need for farmers, fisherman, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, welders, etc. In fact, there is a shortage of workers in many of these fields because they are often difficult to do, and so pay is higher than it used to be. On the space ships of the future, there are still going to be a need for plumbers, electricians and handymen.

    There have been dire predictions of the death of the oil business for more than a century now. In 1850, people thought that you could only get oil if it was bubbling on the surface. And then people started drilling, and all of the sudden there was more oil. With new technologies like horizontal drilling, fracking and shale oil production, there is an oil boom. The U.S. has put most federal lands off-limits to oil exploration, so all of the current activity is on private land. If we opened up even 10 percent of federal lands to exploration, we would have enough oil and gas for decades and probably with new technology more than a century. History shows that your concern about natural resources being expended is exaggerated.

    My position is that for now we need the oil and we need the jobs. We also need innovation. The best way to incentivize innovation is to get the government out of it and allow the free market to work. Steve Jobs did not invent the iPhone to meet the needs of some government planner. Someday 10 years from now or 30 years from now somebody or a group of somebodies will invent a better energy source than fossil fuels. That will happen faster, and the world will be a better place, if we 1)allow for cheap energy production today and 2)get the government out of the way. It will not happen any faster if we continue to demonize the oil industry and the people who would like high-paying jobs today.

  20. Hi Geoff,

    You are reading more into my comment (and doing less actual reading of my comment).

    I as not specifically commenting on oil when I spoke of natural resources. Nor was I specifying a timeframe for when the natural resource might be expended.

    While it may be that we can continue for decades and even generations on the energy that is currently available within the US, the fact is that certain commodities are not renewable. If consumed, they will eventually be exhausted.

    One interesting case of this is hydroton, an expanded clay product used in hydroponics and aquaponics. Hydroton was chemically inert and was created from the clays mined from a particular mine in Germany.

    In 2012 (I believe) the mine petered out (a term fittingly derived from depletion of natural saltpeter resources created by mineralization of bat guano). Turns out that mine was unique. Therefore there is no new Hydroton being created (though light-weight expanded clay from other sources (not chemically inert nor particularly strong) is available.

    Going on to SBIRs and other innovations based on intellectual property (which applies also to farming, etc.), it is interesting to note the extreme disparity between different states when it comes to even submitting SBIR proposals. There are states where no one even attempts to submit such proposals.

    Give me workers who don’t have to artificially increase product demand to maintain their standard of living. Give me a people who are willing to be sated with the “manna” the local world provides, rather than requiring also the “manna” from ages past and un-seen exploited lands.

    I’m far more concerned with Californians pumping their ground water resources without thought to the finite nature of the resource than I am about Coloradans fracking their state.

    At this point, however, my husband might remind me that it is not good for woman to remain awake all night long, abusing her own natural resource of health (despite what Proverbs 31 might say).

  21. Jennvan40, good catch. It is certainly true that financial security is a huge issue preventing marriage these days, and that is one of the points I wanted to make, so thanks.

  22. Meg, I have some questions for you because I am not understanding your points at all.

    You write: “Give me workers who don’t have to artificially increase product demand to maintain their standard of living. Give me a people who are willing to be sated with the “manna” the local world provides, rather than requiring also the “manna” from ages past and un-seen exploited lands.”

    I have no idea what you mean by “artificially increase product demand,” but this is a post about the oil and gas industry, so I must presume you think that oil and gas somehow “artificially increase” demand. How exactly? You are using an economic term, but from an economic standpoint, there is zero evidence of this. What do you mean?

    Your second sentence implies (to me at least) that you should be able to somehow decide what jobs are dignified and appropriate and what jobs are not. Based on what criteria? Do you really believe that you should get to determine how other people make their living?

    Up above you write: “While there is no doubt that it’s better to have a job than none, and better to have a job that pays a living wage rather than a menial job that isn’t sufficiently stable to fulfill personal and community hopes and dreams, I would prefer it if we all engaged in those jobs that build a better tomorrow that won’t collapse when natural resources are expended.”

    Again, this seems to imply that you know best what jobs people should have and what jobs they shouldn’t have. The jobs you like will help build a “better tomorrow.” Are you absolutely 100 percent certain that oil and gas jobs today have nothing to do with building a “better tomorrow?” From a purely practical standpoint, the people today working in oil and gas provide electricity and gasoline for people working in other fields that you presumably believe are more appropriate. If all of these people working in oil and gas were suddenly to disappear, then there would be no electricity, no gasoline, no airplane fuel and thus no innovation. So, can you see that this position appears to me a bit short-sighted?

    Returning to my friend Tom, you appear to feel that his job does not help build a “better tomorrow.” What would you have him do instead? He is a living breathing human being who wants a better job for his family today. So, should we tell Tom that Meg Stout and people like her believe his job is unworthy and therefore he must remain a bartender indefinitely?

    I am honestly at a loss here to understand your points. Perhaps you could help.

  23. Nice to see articles on politics back here at M*. The argument, from a liberal perspective, can be compared to the issue Afghanistan faced with poppy farmers, which was a vital part of the economy, but considered morally questionable. Poppy farming and fracking are not on the same magnitude, but liberals generally consider investment in these sorts of things to be morally irresponsible. Whether or not their moral views on the environment are justified is another argument. But I think it is important to consider that this is a moral issue for liberals, not simply lack of compassion or short-sightedness. Of course liberals want a strong and prosperous economy. Its just that they want to do it in a morally responsible way.

    Personally, I’m all for fracking as a short term solution and temporary economic boon. But I do think that the government should step up to invest in experimental and less-profitable industries that promise future rewards. Even if some of those industries go bust, we still learn from them, and a culture that values environmental sustainability is fostered. Solar IS the future, and it is a future that we need to fight for.

  24. I was not interpreting this as a post uniquely about oil and gas, but rather a post talking about how jobs provide benefit to society, even though some might consider a particular job to be politically incorrect.

    I brought the SBIR example up because I happened to overhear a conversation yesterday where Wyoming, for example, doesn’t even have anyone who submits proposals (to the Navy, at least).

    At any rate, there are any number of jobs that provide a living wage and sufficient stability to build family and community. But I’m personally less enthusiastic when those I love tell me of career paths that build on a status quo that might go away (like processing steel at Geneva or having a position with the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-banking Company).

    Ethically building a strong tomorrow is one of those good career paths. Medicine is another. Engineering a third.

    When we speak of alternative fuels, by the way, I believe that these have been successful in other nations, particularly Europe and China. Their failure in the US is due in part to the many willing to go with the status quo. This is vaguely similar to how the United States failed to transition to SI units of measurement, even though this has isolated us technologically and economically from the rest of the world. Our young people aren’t even equipped to participate in the global conversation because they’re still using antiquated measurement systems, because grandpa and grandma (or the leadership of grandpa and grandma) was content to look backwards rather than forwards.

    In the story of Lot’s wife, bad consequences happened when she looked backwards. I’m merely pointing out that if we are lauding a workforce fundamentally vested in yesterday’s status quo (compared to being either not vested or vested in a fringe occupation), we should also at least point out that there are forward looking occupations as well.

  25. Meg, you didn’t answer all of my questions, but if I am reading your response correctly, it seems you DO believe that you should be able to decide what kinds of jobs are acceptable and what kinds are not, and the only three areas that are acceptable are the three you mention. What happens to people working in other areas?

    You also seem to be convinced that you can tell exactly which professions will be in demand in the future and which ones will not. So presumably people should only work in “forward-looking occupations” according to your criteria. This is interesting.

    The global marketplace is an fascinating thing. People think they are working in “forward-looking occupations,” and then the occupations they thought were going to exist in the future don’t appear. In 1900, new buggy whip companies were being started with the newest and best material. These new product were “forward-looking.” By 1925, almost all of these companies went out of business because of course there was no longer a need for very many buggy whips thanks to the automobile. I remember in the 1990s there were several articles talking about how IBM and Novell were a duopoly and would dominate the future. Today, IBM is doing OK but dominates a specific market niche and Novell is just another small software company. Today, we believe Apple and Google are “forward-looking,” but I predict in 10 years there will be other companies that come along with new technologies that will challenge them. Any study of the history of business will show that it is difficult to predict what is “forward-looking” and what is not.

    When it comes to the energy business, solar and wind only survive in the U.S. because of MASSIVE government subsidies. Companies that invest in these technologies could not make it without government support. Perhaps someday they will. But here is the problem: the people who favor these subsidies are absolutely sure they know that solar and wind is the FUTURE!!! So what happens when 10 years from now somebody invents an amazing new power source that has nothing to do with wind and solar? All of our tens of billions of subsidies were a huge waste of taxpayer money because they went to backward-looking technologies. So in effect the government is exactly like Lot’s wife, looking back at technologies that are almost certain to be replaced by something else.

    Nate also claims to have a crystal ball and is certain that he can tell the future, and the future is solar! Again, solar is not economically feasible today, and the massive solar power plant in the Mojave is a disaster (I linked to it in the OP). Solar may be feasible in the future or it may not be, but I am predicting that in the great global game of economics something else besides solar will win.

    Meanwhile, we have a technology — oil and gas — that is amazingly economically feasible and has been around for 160 years. People have been predicting for 100 years that this technology was based on natural resources that would disappear, and yet now there are new oil and gas discoveries literally every week.

    In the world where central planners decide what types of jobs people should and should not have, we would encourage people to work in solar (a technology that is not economically feasible and has a questionable future) instead of in oil and gas (a technology that is economically feasible and definitely has a future).

    So, who is like Lot’s wife?

  26. Mike (way back at 4:53 Jan 6), I wasn’t saying piping vs trucking (though I’d prefer more investment in rail than trucking), I was saying piping refined vs piping unrefined. I don’t see the point in moving trash 1000+ miles to be cleaned.

  27. While it would be great to build our future job market to be as ethical as possible, there are two problems as I see it 1- what is or is not ethical changes over time, 2- there are a lot of unethical people generally. Even if we had more ethics as a people and society, that doesn’t mean that what is ethical now will be ethical in 20 or 30 years.
    I remember the 80’s when having a job in the oil industry was a big thing, you were basically set for life with great pay and amazing benefits. People wanted to work for oil companies because ethically you were support the building of our economy and so many great innovations. It was all American to work in the oil and plastics industry, you were saving millions of people by working for the oil and plastics company. At least that was the way it was around here in the midwest. Its amazing to me how much the oil companies are demonized as the bad ones.

  28. “In the world where central planners decide what types of jobs people should and should not have, we would encourage people to work in solar (a technology that is not economically feasible and has a questionable future) instead of in oil and gas (a technology that is economically feasible and definitely has a future).”

    Right on, Geoff. Milton Friedman, Nobel-winning economist, nailed this years ago in a speech he gave accepting his Nobel entitled “The Pretense of Knowledge”:

    “If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.”

    Central planners do not have, nor have they ever have, nor will they ever have, data sufficient to dictate what can or ought to be done in the realm of human economics. This is the fatal flaw of central planning that Ludwig von Mises identified nearly a hundred years ago where he described the impossibility of pricing in a socialist economy. Yet the experts try, again and again, to dictate and pick winners and losers when it’s human action, via the market, that ought to do so.

  29. Frank,

    Thank you for clarifying and I apologize if I misunderstood your post. A couple of thoughts on the reason for a pipeline in this case.

    They are not really sending a lot of trash, per se, when oil is being moved from place to place. And it is not going to be cleaned with vast portions being discarded. The vast majority of crude oil is refined (or separated) into useful products and little is wasted. Gasoline is just a portion. There are other fuels (jet fuel, diesel), lubricating oils, heating oils, olefins (plastics), and even asphalt from the heavy bottoms.

    The main reason to send the Canadian tar sands productions to the gulf coast is that there are already refineries there to deal with the sour crude oil (based on what they were getting from Venezuela and Mexico back in the day) that is coming out of western Canada. Building a pipeline is cheaper than building a new refinery, and then shipping it to a port for export anyway.

  30. I think the analogy of the Church as the body of Christ can be usefully expanded to address some of the issues that have come up in the discussion of what constitutes worthy or unworthy employment. Or, in other words, I think that we need to be a bit more circumspect in our judgments regarding which jobs provide more benefit to society than others, as I think that it is not so nearly cut and dried as some of us might suppose. A danger we have in our Church, I think, is that we put such a great emphasis on education that we tend to look down our noses at those careers and paths that might not require such credentials.

    In fact, there are a very small number of occupations that come readily to mind that I would identify as not having any benefit to society. (I would include in that list such careers as porn film director, unlicensed pharmaceutical peddlers, professors of certain academic “disciplines,” prostitution, etc.) We do a great disservice to our brothers and sisters when we look down on them for engaging in honest work that allows them to provide for their families.

    Meg, in responding specifically to a couple of your comments, I would be hesitant to be overly judgmental of those who have worked in “career paths that build on a status quo that might go away.” It doesn’t take much imagination to think of technical barriers that could be overcome that could make almost any job you could name obsolete. However, some of the items discussed are perhaps more vulnerable. People working for companies entirely funded by SBIR grants, for instance, are totally dependent on the government funding their work. I also think that it is simplistic to suggest that all such work falls within the category of “ethically building a strong tomorrow.” It’s not hard to identify projects funded by the US government that would not fit that description, regardless of political bent. Perhaps some could find alternative funding, but the fact of the matter is that many such endeavors evaporate completely if the government stops funding them.

    Likewise, almost the entire green energy economy exists simply because the government, in one way or another, has decreed that it must. Speaking as a fellow who has worked on alternative energy projects on behalf of a public electric utility, I am not aware of a single solar or wind project that would have been built in this country which would have been profitable absent massive government subsidies, either in direct funding or by mandating that companies buy the power at an artificially inflated price. Actually, I don’t think that an economically self-sufficient wind or solar project has been built anywhere in the world. So what happens if a government can no longer, or will no longer, prop these industries up? The status quo here may very well go away.

    One day, someone may figure out how to make solar as efficient as coal in terms of generating electricity. I hope they do. However, none of the green technologies are any more sustainable than oil because we have to put more in to get less out.

  31. You are supposing that I am an economic liberal who wishes to dictate to people what they should do. However I would assert that you can only do that because this is the internet and we are communicating using writing. So you can’t hear me guffaw when my words are misunderstood.

    Again, I’m just suggesting that there are ways and ways to respond to harsh economic times.

    With respect to fracking itself, I’m not terribly au courant regarding the environmental concerns. However a google search followed by reading a page that looked legitimate (a well-documented page developed by students in a Geology and Human Health course in the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University) persuades me that I personally wouldn’t want to get involved in fracking and would be concerned if my community were to become the site of fracking activity.

    With respect to energy use for HVAC, I actually prefer use of geothermal resources. Unfortunately, the business model for selling geothermal systems sucks for the consumer (having to pay the entire bill up front). Even so, the break even point comes well before system replacement, but it’s still harsh to have to pay all that up front.

    I just hope no one is using their ecclesiastical position to persuade fellow congregants that it is evil to object to industrial projects that can be harmful. At that point we move into an area of ecclesiastical abuse.

  32. I’m not interested in this forum to have an in depth discussion of the science behind the fracking debate, or lack thereof. Though I would say that most of the concerns being raised by the “students in the 2012 introductory-level Geology and Human Health course in the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University” are related to oil and gas exploration and development generally, and are not limited to fracking, so they are stacking the deck, so to speak.

    Meg, I agree with you on the issue of whether or not bishops and stake presidents should make the issue of fracking or other industrial processes an issue of direction, either for or against. Gay marriage this is not.

    As for HVAC geotherm applications, it is widely adopted in Iceland. It is interesting that there is stronger evidence for increased seismic activity from geotherm development than from fracking.

  33. Meg, I am not sure where you are going with the whole “ecclesiastical position” comment, but I agree that the Church should be politically neutral. In my extremely conservative ward in Colorado we do not discuss politics, especially in my gospel doctrine class. So, there is that.

    As Michael says, the fracking debate seems to be tinged with religious fervor and it is difficult to have a fruitful discussion, but as I said above I live in an area where there is literally fracking all around me and I have no issues, so to each his own.

    Regarding the economic liberal dictating to others, I do not know how else to take your comments. I quoted from them. But I realize that verbal discussions where you can see facial expressions and body language are very different from on-line debates, and I am open to the possibility I am misinterpreting you.

  34. Hi Geoff,

    In my many years of online correspondence, I have had people misunderstand me all too often. A particularly memorable discussion at mormon-l regarding abortion comes to mind. Though by the end of that interchange, my sparring partner concluded that the world would be a great place if Meg were made queen of everything, or words somewhat similar to that.

    But I am not queen of everything, and everyone is free to do as they will. However I might not refrain from injecting my opinion, even knowing that no one is compelled in any way to give me the time of day.

    To your point, when the rules of the game make employment in a particular industry highly advantageous, it doesn’t seem kosher to berate the individuals who choose to become employees for the ills supposedly associated with that industry.

  35. I was told a woman in North Dakota was at a convenience store when she overheard some men discussing how they were going to follow her and rape/kill her. They assumed that because they weren’t speaking English they wouldn’t be detected. Luckily for the lady she was able to call her husband and the police on the way home, and in the ensuing gunfight her assailants were killed.

    I guess these bad guys would have been bad guys before the boom, but I share the anecdote as an example of what happens when an area is flooded with outside laborers.

  36. My analogies always seem to miss the mark, but here goes…

    I have food in my pantry. If I don’t do anything with it, it will keep indefinitely. I have a huge pantry. I used to only be able to reach some of the food, but I keep figuring out ways to get to the harder to reach stuff.

    I’ve thought about coming up with a diet or a meal schedule, but instead I think I’m just going to see how much I can eat! My arms are going to get jacked from all the canned goods I’m lifting to my face!

    Oh, and did I mention I haven’t devised an effective way of dealing with the empty cans? Or my own feces?

    There’s a Little Caesar’s across the street. I’m pretty sure that used to be a McDonald’s though. I don’t want to invest time and effort in establishing a relationship with Little Caesar’s if it could wind up changing to something else at any time. A Burger King, maybe? Nobody knows what the future holds.

    End of analogy.

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