The Union Of Confused Scientists

…is apparently unacquainted with the difference between revenues and profits.

[Update a few minutes later]

And then there’s this:

The economic illiteracy continues, both at UCS and at Wired. “Fuel efficiency is really what’s going to put more money back in your pocket and put more money back in our communities,” Goldman tells Wired, and Newcomb worries that “very little of the remaining cash goes into the local economy.” Can we please lay aside the primitive superstition that in the developed world in the 21st century there is such a thing as the “local economy”? Let’s say we took the Brooklyn farm coop approach to gas, and a quaint little store on my corner had a oil well in the back, a DIY-refinery in the garage, and a hand-lettered chalkboard outside advertising its artisanal gas. The bearded hipster inside runs the whole thing. Local economy, right? But I assume he lives in a house or an apartment, which is bound to be made of concrete and steel not locally sourced. He probably has a cell phone and a computer and may even shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Food or — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — Walmart, thus sending the money I spend at his shop far and wide. You know who has a “local economy”? North Koreans and hunter-gatherers. Autarky is no way to live. Somebody should explain comparative advantage and gains from trade to these gentlemen.


37 thoughts on “The Union Of Confused Scientists”

  1. The whole point of demagoguing is that understanding facts doesn’t matter. Yes, the pretty charts even with all the right numbers may impress (Jim?) but are worthless without understanding.

    The problem in today’s society is discrediting doesn’t matter either.

    The adults have left the room folks.

  2. Where did they get the $2500 premium for a hybrid? Has it really dropped that low or are they just confused, ignorant and naive pseudo-scientists?

    1. Gregg,
      unless that bearded dude is living and working out of a gas station made of logs he cut nearby, peeled on site, stacked and cobbed, on a lot with gravel he dug and carted, JUST using the pencil doesn’t make him local either.

      My analogy leaves out any equipment he needs to store and pump said fuel. Even a hand pump and inground tanks wouldn’t be made on site.

  3. Does someone have a good economic model regarding whether one should 1) drive a 17-year old Taurus getting 15 MPG in cold weather in local driving, spending $1200/year in gas, 2) drive a brand new Prius under the same conditions getting maybe 30 MPG, spending $600/year in gas.

    The new car purchase thing is easy. You compare, say, a Prius costing, what, 25 K new, against a Corolla (I rented one last summer, and it is a mighty fine small car) costing, what, 19 K new? You figure that the Prius has at most a 20 percent fuel economy advantage against the Corolla, you make some guesses about how long you will keep the car and the future price of gas, and so on.

    Part of the calculus of keeping the Taurus on the road is that Energy Secretary Chu keeps telling us that (practical) full-electric cars are around the corner. Is it a good decision to drop 25 K on a Prius now, or should one spend the extra $600/year on gas for a few more years until something much better than a Prius comes along?

    1. My Prius gets about 45-48 MPG locally in cold weather. It actually does better in warmer weather. I suspect that’s because it has to run the gas engine longer to heat the car in the winter. I didn’t buy it because I wanted to save the planet or any other such nonsense. I bought it because I’m a geek (and the Prius is a very geeky car) and I needed a new car at the time. High mileage was a factor but the Prius meets my personal driving needs quite well. I’m going to drive it 400 miles tomorrow to so see my son and I’ll only use about 8-9 gallons of gas to do that.

      There are so many factors that make your comparison difficult. Just to name a few:

      1. How much are you spending each year for maintenance on the Taurus? If it isn’t needing much maintenance, cool. The Prius also needs maintenance and let me tell you, Toyota maintenance doesn’t come cheap. IIRC, my 30K update was about $500.

      2. How much are you paying for insurance on the Taurus compared to a new Prius? Odds are you have little more than basic liability and uninsured motorist coverage on it. Unless you can pay cash for the new car, you’ll have to fully insurance it. Advantage: Taurus

      3. How much are you paying for your license tags for the Taurus? Odds are it’s a small fraction of what you’d pay for the new car. Advantage: Taurus

      4. How much would your monthly payments be to buy the Prius compared to having a paid off Taurus? Advantage: Taurus

      5. Your Taurus has already depreciated most of its value. Not so for any new car. A Prius seems to hold its value pretty well but you can’t ignore depreciation.

      My point is that while the Prius gets really good mileage, the total cost of ownership involves a lot more than just gasoline. Unless the price of gas doubled (to about what it is for aviation gasoline), there’s no way buying a new car will be truly less expensive than hanging on to a functioning old car, unless the old car is needing a lot of work to keep running. Maintenance can really drive up the cost of ownership.

    2. Instapundit links to a Forbes article on the cheapest cars to own ( ). The Forbes site has yet another link to the real data. Anyway, the cheapest car they list (a Scion iQ) comes in at $.36/mile. You could follow the link and plug in your own numbers to see.

      I was paying around $2k/year to keep my 20 year old Toyota running (maintenance); gas, oil, insurance extra.

      Don’t put off buying a new car because an electric is just around the corner. Pretty good chance that nothing much better than a Prius will be cheaply available for at least five years.

  4. Can we please lay aside the primitive superstition that in the developed world in the 21st century there is such a thing as the “local economy”?

    Seems mighty fatal to a core principal of Keynesian economics.

    1. Extreme application of the local economy concepot leads to the Broken Window fallacy:

      If all you look at is the glazier you’d go around breaking every window in the town.

  5. Wired had a story the other day about how technology is bankrupting the USPS. Not a mention of their money troubles stemming from being required to fund their emperor lyee retirement plans.

    1. From the numbers I’ve seen, USPS lost about $14,000,000,000 last year, of which about $5,000,000,000 went toward retirement liabilities. So if they didn’t have to pay them, they’d have lost “only” about $9,000,000,000.

      1. How much of that was in politically-necessary but unproductive and redundant post office facilities? I’d guess a good chunk. I did a once-over of my counties’ post offices, and I could make a case for getting rid of one-third to two-fifths, easy.

    2. They could cut a few dollars by delivering mail only one day a week, kind of like garbage pickup in most places is only one day a week. Maybe they could time their deliveries to be the day before garbage day.

    3. They’d be worth saving if they could work out a service such that I can stop spam snail mail.

      Might save them a mail-truck-load of money too not having to sort and deliver that junk.

  6. This story left out WHO actually makes the most on a gallon of gas or diesel. Without lifting a finger, federal, state and local governments average 53 cents on a gallon of gas or diesel.

    As hard as I try, I cannot find one anti-oil company (D) or OWS type, barking about THAT level of ‘profit’ being made on the backs of America’s working poor and middle class.

  7. Paul,

    Two years ago I bought a 1997 Subaru Outback with 2.5l engine, manual transmission (10 spd), and 60,000 miles on the clock for $2700.

    EPA says such a car should get 18 city, 25 highway but despite driving pretty quickly I’ve never had a tank worse than 27 with city driving and I’ve had 30 on a trip cruising at 70 indicated.

    Maybe the NZ/Japan model is really different to the US one, but I wouldn’t have thought so.

    I’m expecting to use this car to be good for at least another 100,000 miles, possibly quite a bit more.

    I’m spending about $2500/yr on fuel.

    Even if a Prius used half the fuel (which it doesn’t), at current prices ten years of fuel savings comes to only about half the purchase price of the Prius.

    Plus of course the Prius is smaller, slower, and can’t tow this

    (Ok, I only get about 21 mpg while towing that, which is probably about 500 miles/yr. I didn’t count that when I said I’d never had worse than 27 mpg)

    1. The Prius can’t tow for squat and man, that’s a beautiful thing you’re towing. Last summer, I drove my Prius over 900 miles in one day averaging about 80 MPH while running the air conditioner and still averaged 50 MPG for the trip. Not too shabby for a little geek car.

    2. Mr. Hoult. I am very upset with you. How dare you provide a publicly accessible link to a piece of aviation porn like that. I had to take three deep breaths, and fan my face for at least a minute.
      Now, how do I move to NZ?

    3. I also own a ’97 Outback wagon (2.5L DOHC, auto trans; my feet are too big to deal with three pedals in the floorpan) that I bought in 2000 with 30K mi on it. After an engine rebuild at 200K and a front-to-rear clutchpack rebuild at 245K, she’s still going strong at 316K. Still gets about 25-26 mi/US gallon. Just keep up the maintenance and change the timing belt at 100K intervals and it’ll last a good long time.

      1. My previous car was a ’95 Legacy wagon with 2.5l automatic. It used about 1 l/100km more than the manual Grandwagon in all situations, so similar to yours.

        Torque converters suck gas, even though the Subaru one at least has lock-up in top gear.

  8. The higher fuel efficiency vehicles will come if the oil prices at the pump remain this high. The most likely event will be gasoline direct injection on all vehicles, start-stop systems, etc. Not full blown hybrids like the Prius or the Volt.
    I think electrics have more market viability in the long term than the hybrids. They have different enough characteristics and the powertrain is simpler rather than more complicated than a regular combustion vehicle.
    The range keeps improving and charge times keep getting down and there are synergies with other markets which require battery technology like smartphones, tablets and laptops.

    1. The power required for fast charge times on electrics is pretty scary. My car takes 13 gallons or so on a tank. Maybe an electric would use the equivalent of four gallons, about half a GJ. A two-minute charge would be 4 MW. 100 amps is 40kV. 95% efficient charge cycle is 200kW heat. Maybe the charging process can include some sort of liquid coolant, although mixing liquid and high voltage electricity is going to be a challenge.

      One of the synergies which you don’t mention is backup power for the home–you can run a house for quite a while off the energy in an electric car battery. If, god forbid, the electric supply to houses ever depended to a significant extent on wind or solar power, the batteries in electric cars could be used as load levelers.

      1. If, god forbid, the electric supply to houses ever depended to a significant extent on wind or solar power, the batteries in electric cars could be used as load levelers.

        Which is great, until you need to drive somewhere at short notice and the battery is flat. Not to mention likely to be wearing the battery out faster with excessive charge/discharge cycles.

        1. Who actually uses a car to drive somewhere? That’s what public transportation is for! Let’s keep cars in their traditional role as economic stimulus and load leveling.

      2. Before we get there I’ll have switched to a solid-fuel steam/alternator arrangement.

        And … making gasoline from producer gas doesn’t seem overly complex.

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