It is fun to follow the outlandish irrationality that poses as reasoned debate on the blogosphere.
A story on The Globe and Mail’s website this week caught my attention: is it better to buy a new or used vehicle?
There are valid financial arguments on both sides of the question. Some of it comes down to personal preference. In the commentary section under the story, debate was seriously skewed by many people’s lack of understanding of “depreciation.”
For example, if you buy a new car because you want to have a reliable vehicle for the next 10 years, then “depreciation” is irrelevant. If, on the other hand, you plan to trade it in after four years, then “depreciation” is central to the transaction.
A fan favourite in the readers’ comments section was a guy — obviously from Toronto, not that he should be prejudged for that — who boastfully proclaimed he has given up cars in favour of a bicycle, which gets him everywhere he needs to go, costs far less and doesn’t damage the environment.
Talk about being unable to see beyond your own interests. Say, fella: how would that work for commuters in February in St. John’s or Calgary? Twenty miles by bike in the snow? Great. If a blizzard blows in, it will be even better.
Up, down, all around
The blogosphere isn’t the only place where poorly thought-out arguments prevail. Unfortunately, public discourse about important social and political issues has become tainted with the same malaise. Too many politicians now seem to think their arguments are unassailable because, well, they’re in charge.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale is one of the worst offenders. She is apparently so satisfied with her authority that she doesn’t recognize when her statements are contradictory, illogical or preposterous, or all three.
Any Newfoundlander (or Labradorian) who follows public events is aware one of the provincial government’s prime arguments for blowing $4.1 billion of the public’s money on the Muskrat Falls development is that oil prices are projected to go up and up and then up some more.
Rather than keep paying higher prices for oil, consumers will benefit from the hydroelectric megaproject. Well, that has been the government line, and they’ve stuck to it for years.
Oil prices have been dropping for a few months. The per-barrel price of oil has declined about $20 since April.
Most rational observers, i.e., taxpayers, would interpret this as yet more evidence that the provincial government’s determination to spend billions on Muskrat Falls is, to put it politely, hasty and misguided.
Not Dunderdale. To her, volatile oil prices merely reinforce the need to develop Muskrat Falls. She said so this week.
To recap: according to the Dunderdale government, high and rising oil prices are the basis for spending billions of public dollars on Muskrat Falls; also according to the Dunderdale government, falling oil prices reinforce the need to spend public money on Muskrat Falls.
The premier is apparently incapable of seeing the contradiction.
The need for Muskrat Falls was predicated on the assumption oil prices were headed for the $200-per-barrel mark, due largely to ever-rising demand in China and India. Consequently, selling hydroelectricity to New England consumers would be easy and profitable.
Neither of those conditions is true anymore.
Uncertain oil prices should lead to uncertainty about the Muskrat Falls project, even among its supporters.
But in today’s politics, authority trumps arithmetic. If the premier declares dropping oil prices prove the need for Muskrat Falls, then voters should set aside their critical faculties and forget about all the previous arguments that Muskrat Falls is needed because of rising oil prices.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.