Monday, June 23, 2008

Regulate speculators in oil market

Regulate speculators in oil market
Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • June 23, 2008

The soaring prices at the gas station have got all of us flustered. While some may argue that the high prices will finally ensure that other competing products/technologies get a fair chance, most agree that these prices are detrimental to our global competitiveness. US industry unlike European & Asian industry has evolved under the premise of cheap and abundant availability of oil which would keep the cost of transportation low. The rising prices strikes at the foundations of the US production model.

Unfortunately, an issue of so much importance to the economy and national security is caught up in partisan wrangling. One side argues for opening up more domestic areas for drilling notwithstanding industry reports indicating that oil from new areas like ANWR will have an insignificant effect on oil supply & prices in the short term. Moreover, domestic oil production from existing oilfields in Alaska has been declining every decade despite increasing prices. Oil companies are global conglomerates and business economics dictates that they source from wherever they find oil cheaper. New oilfields in the US will produce oil at a higher cost than older fields outside the country.

The other side argues that any new drilling will destroy the environment. They ignore the fact that the mad rush towards bio-fuels is leading to massive deforestation in the Amazon region for planting more bio-fuel crops. That is as or more damaging to the environment as drilling in ANWR would be. Climate change is a global phenomenon so destruction of the Amazon rainforest affects the US environment too.

Oil companies, OPEC and the US government all seem to be in agreement that the prices are being driven more by speculative pressures rather than any demand-supply equilibrium related reasons. The government and regulators have a role to play in correcting any distortions in the market caused by fraudulent activity or structural deficiencies. Public memory is short and most people seem to have forgotten the havoc wreaked by Enron in the Energy Futures markets in an under regulated environment. A few ways in which the government can step in:

1. Impose a cap on volume of oil trades allowed in the Mercantile Exchange
2. Install price governors which stop trading if the price hits above/below a certain specified range.
3. Increase margin money norms for trades.
4. Impose a tax on the profits from speculative oil trades. This tax is not on oil or oil companies but on profits from speculative trading in oil.
5. Aggressively investigate fraudulent activity in oil trading.

However I do not expect any action in the near future as the current Administration prepares for transitioning to a new one. With the lack of action I will not be surprised if prices hit $5 a gallon at the pump before the year is up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tax alternatives are everywhere

Tax alternatives are everywhere

Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • June 9, 2008

In my May 27 column titled "Taxes aren't only revenue option.'' I shared some ideas about alternative ways to raise revenue. Today, I offer other ideas to accomplish the transition from the "raise taxes and/or cut staff/services'' mindset to the "raise revenue and cut costs'' mindset.
Ideas related to cutting costs by improving efficiency and effectiveness open up a veritable Pandora's box.Here are some more readily executable ideas, which hopefully should not get caught up in political or administrative gobbledygook.

  • Institute reverse-bidding as the means for awarding all county and city service and supply contracts. Whoever bids the lowest for providing a service or supply to the county/city should get the contract as long as they meet other criteria. The process should be open, transparent and Web-enabled so that citizens can also keep tabs on what the county is paying.
  • Review the routing and scheduling of the county/city fleet of vehicles on a scientific basis. Many new routes may have been added over the years and the existing routes/schedules may not be optimal. Multiple/duplicate trips might be happening when a single one would suffice.
  • Think of opportunities to sell when buying a product or service. The county/city may be intending to pay for a certain service, but it may be possible that vendors are willing to install the service for free or pay money in return for certain privileges.
  • Go green, think Earth and save dollars. Take energy audits of buildings and vehicles with corrective actions to make them more energy-efficient, solar panels on buildings, harness geothermal and wind energy opportunities, convert diesel vehicles to run on bio-diesel (including used cooking oils). It's more relevant now due to rising fuel prices.
  • Standardize and consolidate information technology —infrastructure, software, hardware — across all county/city organizations with interoperability so as to get better rates from vendors and service providers.
  • Some county/city services appear to be monopolies with only a single provider. Introducing some competition and more private players into the mix can drive costs down.
  • Investigate opportunities to transition some services traditionally assumed to be in the public-sector domain to private entrepreneurs. Generally, the private sector is more efficient in keeping costs down. In other words, can driving license, vehicle registration and passport applications be collected by local pharmacies, photo shops or driving schools? Would the private sector be interested in running some bus routes?
    Government has to find more creative and thoughtful ways to raise money.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Search Google


Site Meter