Ed Driscoll

Bell Bottom Blues

Nick Schulz, my editor at Tech Central Station, borrows the title from a classic number by Derek & The Dominoes, and reminds us that when it comes to energy policy, That Seventies Show is back:

If you closed your eyes tight — to ignore the fashion differences — and merely listened to news broadcasts, you’d swear you were in the 1970s. [Actually, waaaay too much of fashion these days is stuck in the seventies as well–Ed]

On Capitol Hill last week, debate swirled around the Supreme Court and a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. Anti-war protesters continue to bleat about U.S. soldiers being mired in a “quagmire.” And just this summer, George Lucas once again saw a “Star Wars” film go boffo at the box office.

What’s more — and more troubling — economic policies from the disco era are being raised from the dead.

In response to recent increased prices at the pump, the Hawaii legislature imposed caps on the wholesale cost of gasoline. Say aloha to an economic disaster. Energy price controls, embraced in the 1970s by Presidents Nixon and Carter, were a bipartisan failure. The Maui News editorialized against its state legislature’s decision, remarking, “In the early 1970s, President Richard M. Nixon pushed a program of price controls. Economists credit the effort as the reason for nearly a decade of nationwide stagflation.” Despite this history, Massachusetts is also considering such a move, as is Utah.

Adding economic insult to the injury of higher prices, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, is calling for, of all things, a tax increase. The tax would apply to what he dubs “windfall profits” for the energy industry. The windfall profits tax is another brainchild of the 1970s fever for micromanaging energy markets. It was implemented back in 1980, partly as a political trade-off to get rid of the price controls. The respected Congressional Research Service concluded the tax simply replaced one harmful economic policy with another and increased American dependence on foreign oil. Congress had the good sense to jettison the tax in the late 1980s. And yet Sen. Dorgan joins the chorus of enthusiasts for ’70s-era energy policy by calling for its reinstatement.

David Frum’s brilliant How We Got Here does a thorough job of analyzing the disparate trends of the 1970s, which, as Frum observes, far more than the 1960s, shaped how we live today. For a time, it appeared that the ’80s managed to put a stake in the heart of the worst of them. But sadly, like bell bottoms themselves, sometimes it seems like there’s no escape from the excesses of That Seventies Show.