Making Laclede Gas Co. Safe For Capitalism

Editorial written by James Baughn on Friday, March 29, 2002

from the having-their-cake dept.

ST. LOUIS -- It's not unusual for a utility company to propose a rate hike because of exceptionally bad weather conditions. But the Laclede Gas Co. has filed for a rate increase because of exceptionally good weather. The company didn't make quite as much scratch this winter because of the warm weather, and now they want customers to pay through the nose to make up for this "Act of God".

Let's get this straight. During previous cold winters when the supply of natural gas plummeted, Laclede went before the Missouri Public Service Commission for an emergency rate increase. Now, after a pleasant winter when natural gas was readily available, Laclede has gone before the PSC requesting... another rate increase.

What a racket!

The fact that the Public Service Commission has even considered Laclede's request without laughing in their face is downright scary. If the PSC agrees to this rate hike, then the Commission will effectively no longer have any power. Any utility company could claim they were losing money because of the weather and demand a rate increase every single year (after all, 100% of Missouri winters are either cold or mild). The only bright side in this scenario is that the Governor would then have a good excuse to eliminate the impotent PSC and save a few bucks from the state budget (even though consumers would be losing more than a few bucks).

This isn't just an isolated case, however. Companies all across the United States are acting like whiny, spoiled brats. If a two year old doesn't get something they want, they throw a tantrum and won't stop crying until mommy gives in. Likewise, if the typical American corporation loses a little money, they throw a tantrum and won't stop whining until the government gives in and provides some kind of a taxpayer-funded handout or freebie.

Take Major League Baseball, for instance. The price of attending a game is spiraling upward so fast that within a few years MLB will have to offer an "installment plan" just so the typical family can afford tickets and parking fees (forget about concessions). Now combine this with the income from selling television rights (which have to be extremely lucrative -- why else would there be so many darn commercials during a game?). With all of this income, why does Commissioner Bud Selig keep ranting and raving about how baseball is losing money and needs to downsize by eliminating two teams?

Meanwhile, every professional sports team is clamoring for a new stadium if they haven't already gotten one. The Cardinals are whining about how they're losing money because their rivals have newer stadiums. Unlike other businesses, however, they refuse to shell out their own money to completely finance the construction of a new venue; they want taxpayers to carry some of the burden. Little children whine because their friends have newer or bigger toys, so the process is familiar to all of us.

And let's not forget about Hollywood. Music sales are down and ratings for the Grammys (and Oscars) were dismal. Hollywood executives blame illegal music copying and demand that the government do something so that they can make even more money. It never occurs to these billionaires that their products might suck and that sales are down because people are losing interest in the mindless drivel and dumbed-down crap originating from the Left Coast. Instead, Hollywood wants Congress to enact laws that automatically assume every Internet user is a pirate and treat them accordingly. Whine, whine, whine.

The problem is that companies share the misguided notion that they have an inalienable right to make money no matter what happens. If they aren't able to separate fools (er, customers) from their money fast enough, they start crying and demand that their mommy (er, the government) do something right away, no matter how many toes get stepped on in the process. If something doesn't go their way, they blame anything and everything except their own flawed decisions.

If the government passes regulations that hurt corporations, they start quoting Adam Smith and whining about the need for laissez-faire Capitalism. However, if the government passes regulations that help them, suddenly it's a good thing even if those regulations represent a violation of laissez-faire principles. The steel industry is naturally quite ecstatic about the recently enacted Bush steel import tariffs even though those tariffs are a restraint of trade diametrically opposed to ideal Capitalism.

Corporations certainly have a right to try to make money, just as individuals have a right to try to obtain happiness. But if businesses fail, that's their problem. If Laclede Gas loses money this quarter, tough -- they certainly made a bundle during the exceptionally cold winters of past years. If the Cardinals are losing revenue because their stadium isn't new and improved, let them pay for it based on all the revenue they've made in previous years when Busch Stadium wasn't quite as old. If Hollywood is struggling, maybe they should fire all of their "executives" and "consultants" and start delivering what people actually want without trying to declare war on their own customers.

It's just that simple.

UPDATE March 31, 2002: An Associated Press story reports that, on average, this season's increase in baseball ticket prices is considerably lower than in recent seasons. Nevertheless, this doesn't include other fees, such as parking and shipping/handling of tickets through mail order... it's these hidden fees that really jump up and bite you when you go to a game.

The article also mentions that baseball is quite a bit cheaper than other professional sports, but the difference can be partially explained by the fact that baseball teams play many more games per season than any other sport. In this way, baseball stadiums have many more seats to fill in one season than football stadiums, basketball courts, or hockey arenas.

All things considered, it seems fair to say that baseball teams rake in enough cash to be able to pay for their own venues without corporate welfare.