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L. Neil Smith's
Number 449, December 30, 2007

"Lives of Drudgery and Servitude"

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A Horrible Idea
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Suppose you found yourself in a room full of women, all of whom resembled Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West, Phyllis Diller, the standup comedian, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's vile Secretary of State, Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR's First Lady, or Nancy Kulp, who played the banker's secretary on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Make that "all but one": one of the women in the room is Lexa Doig, who played the title role on the science fiction TV series Andromeda, and has appeared from time to time on Stargate SG1, as well.

Lexa Doig
Lexa Doig

Now suppose that all the men in the room were going completely overboard, extolling over and over the classic looks of Margaret, Phyllis, Madeleine, Eleanor, and Nancy, while never even mentioning Lexa, arguably one of the most beautiful females ever to appear on television.

You'd think there was something wrong, right?

Seriously wrong.

All of which will give you a pretty fair idea of the frustration I feel with regard to the current price of gasoline, the various "fixes" being proposed for it, and a genuine solution nobody wants to talk about.

We've been over all this before, of course.

Far from being in short supply, petroleum is the second most abundant liquid on Earth. Contrary to what most people—apparently including American oil company executives—believe, petroleum does not come from dead prehistoric animals and plants. Instead, it comes from "abiotic"—non-biological—processes constantly occurring under extreme temperatures and pressures deep within the Earth's crust.

There are several ways to demonstrate this. For one thing, 70 percent of the asteroids orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter contain a substance called "kerogen" (it's what makes chondrites carbonaceous) more or less identical to the stuff that makes ordinary shale oil shale. Last time I looked, there are not now, nor have there ever been, any dead prehistoric animals or plants in the Asteroid Belt.

A more practical proof of the abiotic origin of petroleum is the fact that Russia, which was one of the largest importers of oil a generation ago, has become one of the world's largest oil exporters, following the theories of Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, and French chemist Marcellin Berthelot. Instead of looking where traditional geology says to look for oil, the Russians are drilling where the abiotic theory says to drill. And they're bringing in one gusher after another.

So much so that they figure they'll be unscathed by the coming economic collapse everywhere else, from the United States to mainland China.

Meanwhile, old, "depleted" oil fields that have largely been abandoned under the "dead dinosaur" theory now appear to be filling up again—from below—which is entirely consistent with the abiotic theory. Although I've heard oil company geologists deny it, these oil fields have names and known locations. For further information, I strongly suggest that you read Thomas Gold's 1999 book The Deep Hot Biosphere, or check out the archived writings of George Crispin on

My point is that, whatever else is said and done about the price of gas, it has absolutely nothing to do with scarcity. Libertarians and conservative have long observed that starving people in the Third World are not starving because there's any lack of food on the planet. They're starving because governments, usually operating on insane political and economic theories, are getting in the way—sometimes deliberately—of getting food to the people who need it. People who, if their economies were disenslaved, would have no trouble paying for it.

With regard to petroleum, we get to be starving Third Worlders—the American Productive Class—living on a planet virtually aswim with "black gold", yet blocked by stupid, crazy, or evil politicians, bureaucrats, and cops from doing the simple things we need to do to survive.

There are thousands of years worth of proven oil, gas, and coal reserves beneath the soil of the United States. Yet they have been rendered unreachable by laws, regulations, unions, pressure groups, and other miscreant factors that shouldn't have anything to do with it.

(Environmentalists, who not-so-secretly loathe themselves and their own species and yearn for a mass die-off of humanity, should be told that they are perfectly free to go live in mud hut and croak, decades early, of some disease nobody's heard of for 500 years, but they will be denied the power to force that kind of life on anybody else.)

And, of course, much of the apparent escalation of the price of petroleum actually reflects a steep decline in the value of the US dollar. Since Pinky and the Brain took over, it's fallen to the price of a bus token, and it takes a lot of bus tokens to buy a barrel of oil.

Now in the face of this strictly artificial, politically-induced shortage of energy, as we have so many times before, we're hearing all of the same old tired ideas from pundits who ignore both the actual causes of the mess we're in, and actual solutions that we should be pursuing.

There's a reason for that.

Never, ever forget that the "dominant culture", the elitists who mistakenly believe they own this civilization (and do control most of its papers, magazines, TV, and radio stations), are not enthusiasts for the private automobile. They adore the current price of gas and fervently hope it will go higher. They figure that will deprive us of our individual mobility (and privacy) and force us all onto their nasty, smelly, dirty buses and their even nastier little toy trains. In any case, whatever "solutions" they propose, they are not going to make things any better, not from the viewpoint of the Productive Class.

One thing that all of their solutions have in common, whether it happens to be windmills, solar panels, fuel cells, ethanol made from corn or sugar cane, or synthetic fuel made from ethanol and other things—all of the ugly women in the room I mentioned earlier—is that they will make existing corporations richer. One reason petroleum companies continue to reject the abiotic theory is that, if petroleum is the second most abundant liquid on the planet, it will eventually become impossible to justify selling gasoline for more than a dollar a gallon.

Meanwhile, the only pretty girl in the room goes on being ignored for exactly the same reason. She may be the sweet, perfect answer to the prayers of every lonely man (or thirsty engine) in the world, but she can't promise a devalued dime to any of the villains of this piece.

Her proper name is "thermal depolymerization", a cheap, simple, proven process by which organic garbage—any organic garbage—can be converted into usable fuel, more or less indistinguishable from "light sweet crude". The company that came up with the process said it can be done for fifteen dollars a barrel. With inevitable improvements and economies of scale, they expected that price to fall to eight dollars.

As a side-benefit that may prove as historically significant as fuelling our economy, thermal depolymerization will solve another problem: what do we do with our garbage? On the east coast, they take it out on barges (I've seen it in the movies) and dump it in the ocean—unless they just let it pile up between buildings (I've seen that in movies, too). Out west, we make mountains out of prairie dog holes, altering our topography with vast landfills authorities hope will go away ultimately on the Bishop Berkeley principle: out of sight, out of existence.

Of course all that was before their first full-scale operation, next door to the Butterball turkey plant in Carthage, Missouri, was discovered to have thousands of defective welds in its miles of piping—a clear case, either of unbelievably massive imcompetence or calculated sabotage, you decide—Butterball raised whatever price it was charging for something they'd ordinarily have trouble disposing of, and the governor of the state shut the plant down because it was "smelly".

Smellier than a turkey-processing plant?

Oh, I get it: smellier than a turkey-processing plant that pays its bribes—pardon me, campaign contributions—fully and on time.

It doesn't help that the thermal depolymerization company—not owned by libertarians, I guess—has busied itself lately looking for government handouts. I haven't kept up, but I heard a while back that they were planning to move their operation to another state. I don't know if it would help them to move to another country. Somehow I suspect that government ninjas working for various friends of Pinky and the Brain might just move in and start breaking things and killing people.

"The spice must flow"—but only from authorized sources.

Which is more or less where I'd come to in my thinking when an idea occurred to me. It's a horrible idea, I don't like it, and I'm certainly not proud of having had it. But it's an idea that might just throw a simian spanner right into the middle of all of this tidy machinery designed to process the Productive Class like Butterball turkeys.

Tired of three dollar gas?

Don't wanna pay four, five, or ten?

Then lend me your metaphorical ear.

If I were not a libertarian—a philosophical anarchist, at that—I would propose a new law, to be introduced into state legislatures all over the country. This new law would mandate that, whenever the price of gasoline rose above a certain figure (the committee debates on that item alone would be hilarious to watch) then the legislature would purchase the appropriate intellectual property rights and build a thermal depolymerization plant in each and every county in that state.

If I were not a libertarian.

The figure I had in mind was a dollar.

Let me restate that succinctly. If the price of gas rose above a buck, the state would build thermal depolymerization plants in every county.

And I know, it's already way above a buck.

Now the encouraging fact is that this law doesn't actually have to pass, in order to make those who have blocked the wheels of progress back off. If enough people talk about it in the media that the badguys don't control—primarily the Internet and some talk radio—if it's introduced in enough legislatures by the minority of square-peggers always to be found there, things will mysteriously start getting better.

Clearly, we have entered a time of massive, sweeping political changes, with all sides shifting alliances and everything up for grabs. The Establishment is just barely keeping the whole thing suppressed just now, but their hold—witness the Ron Paul campaign—is beginning to weaken. A proposal like this could ride the wave of those changes, sweeping old things away, clearing the field for new things.

Don't let this become one of those things that you'll realize, ten years from now, that I was right about. I hate that when it happens. Think of it as a sort of national truth or dare campaign—or, better yet, the libertarian version of mutual assured destruction. Sure, we damage ourselves by proposing it—or even by persuading Democrats and Republicans to propose it—but we can take our enemies down with us.

And the price of gas will be something we can live with again.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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