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Oil Depletion Allowance Mischaracterized as a “Subsidy”

As a Texas oil and gas attorney, I am deeply concerned at the constant beating the oil and gas industry takes from Obama and his administration. Obama paints oil and gas companies as Machiavellian monoliths, with their CEO’s sitting around in tails and top hats like the millionaire in the Monopoly game. I can’t recall a president as antagonistic to the industry since Jimmy Carter’s ill-informed and destructive policies resulted in a great deal of oil production being driven from the United States. However, Obama may surpass Carter in his destructiveness. This is the behavior of a misguided idealogue and a demagogue, especially because the announced basis for these policies is so inaccurate. Obama’s speeches appear calculated to generate some kind of “us against them” mentality. But it is not a case of “us against them”. We are them. Most of our oil and gas comes from smaller, independent producers, not the big companies. This assault will cost us jobs and energy at a time when both are in short supply.

The latest assault on the oil and gas industry is Obama’s announcement that he wants to end “oil and gas subsidies”. I think this is Obama-speak for eliminating the depletion allowance. However, Obama does not apply the same view towards all the other subsidies the federal government hands out. For example, most informed people are aware that the real estate debaucle and resultant depression of the last few years is a direct result of the goal of Democrats to buy votes by making sure everybody bought a house, whether they could afford it or not. This policy was expressed in the insistence of a Democratic Congress that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lower their standards in loan qualification (if they are breathing and have a copy of their last utility bill, they qualify), and in the easy money policy of the Federal Reserve. We all know how that turned out. Incredibly, both those policies are still in place. Not only are these policies still in place, but now we have other federal programs to bail out the people who could not afford their mortgage in the first place. This is insanity!

I ran across a quote by Glenn Reynolds recently, that put it far better than I could. Professor Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee. His blog, Instapundit, is the source of many thoughtful comments. Here is a quote from his blog regarding subsidies:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits – self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. – that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them. I don’t think Obama grasps this.

This is spot on. Thanks to Professor Reynolds for putting it so well!

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