24 March 2008

Of Truckers and Smoke Detectors

With the price of gas and diesel going up and up, I suppose it was only a matter of time before this happened. It appears that some, mostly independent, truckers are planning a strike for the week of April 1st. Note to self: do some serious grocery shopping this weekend.

What I find interesting about this story is not necessarily the story itself. Reading through the comments page reveals contradictory sentiments about the current role – and the right role – of government in the matter. Many of the comments by owner-operator truckers concerned over-taxation and regulation by the government. Yet one man in the article itself states that there needs to be more government oversight of the insurance industry. (Which, incidentally, makes sense as insurance is required for all drivers.) There’s also talk of suspending taxes on fuel “until our economy recovers”. Which is all well and good, except that those taxes actually are supposed to support something the truckers need: roads.

On the other side, on the comments page, there were cries of bailout. It’s as if the truckers are some sort of house-flipping scheme. Some writers claimed that the truckers probably wanted to be subsidized like other industries. Others said that what the truckers are complaining about is just the cost of business.

It all made me think a little bit harder about the right role of government in this matter. Should it be the task of the federal government (or of the various state governments, for that matter) to control the prices of things like gas and diesel? In my opinion, supply and demand should largely control that, regardless of how many taxes are placed on a gallon. Again, that tax money is supposed to support roads and infrastructure. (If it doesn’t, then that’s another problem entirely.) Should the government have oversight on insurance companies? In my opinion, when the various governments require purchasing a product like insurance, there should be oversight to make certain that there’s no price-gouging. However, this oversight should be as minimal as possible.

And it’s that minimalistic idea that seems to have been lost on so many, and not just those in government. There is very little need for the federal government in my day-to-day life, or the state for that matter. And yet, here I sit in my own home this morning, wide awake since 4 a.m. because one of my government-mandated smoke alarms ran out of back-up battery juice, which caused the system to double as an alarm clock. I thought I had replaced all of the batteries on Saturday. Alas, I missed two of them. Why, I must wonder, do I have one smoke alarm for every 300 square feet of my house?

I understand that the truckers may be hurting. If they’re paying inflated insurance prices, then they have a grievance that needs to be worked out. Perhaps the government can mediate that. But fuel prices should be handled by the market; otherwise we will have artificially low fuel prices which will lead to shortages. I don’t remember the exact time because I was too young, but I think fuel price fixing has been tried before. What’s needed more is a real conversation about the right role of government (as opposed to conversations about race, gender, etc…things that can’t be influenced by conversation). Do we really want to live in a mommy-state in which the higher levels of government solve every grievance? Perhaps images of government intrusion – for our own good, of course – should be setting off our internal smoke detectors.


Frederick- SilverSurfer -Schaffner said...

Professional drivers are asking American citizens to participate in the "National Shut-Down"

This is an issue effecting all of us and we MUST take a stand NOW. Our government IS a major contributing factor in the outrageous price of fuel...we must take this action to get their attention. All other avenues has only fallen on deaf ears - our government is ignoring the will, and needs, of the American people.


Bob M. said...

I do not mean to be rude, sir, but fuel prices do not bend to the will of the people. Taxes have a purpose, fuel prices are high for a reason, and we need to figure out ways to address these facts without resorting to tactics which really serve no purpose. I must admit that I would have more confidence in efforts to address fuel prices if the assumption were made that they are never coming down. It is safe to assume that they will not.