Rural Missouri Magazine

The Price of Fuel and "Catch 22"

by Frank Stork

When I learned that the price of coal to generate electricity would go up because the cost of natural gas went up because the industry had shifted from coal to natural gas to hold down the cost of generating electricity, I was reminded of the book "Catch 22," authored by Joseph Heller.

The main character in the book is Yossarian, a bombardier stationed on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II. He has flown too many bombing missions, considers himself crazy and wants out.

This is where he first runs into the Catch 22 rule. You can get out if you are deemed crazy but if you want out you are deemed sane so if you say you want out you are not crazy and therefore you must stay in!

A sub character in the book is Milo Minderbinder. Milo is a pure opportunist. He didn't start the war but is simply trying to put it on a business-like basis.

He worships supply and demand and the right of free men to pay as much as they have to for the things they need. His schemes to make money deny his own troops the supplies they need to defeat the enemy. His objectives to corner the market and jack up prices on needed commodities are accepted by his superiors because they share in the profits.

Those who wonder what happened to Milo might find him at the center of the California deregulation scheme. We can also look for him at the table with those saying: "We are moved to charge more for coal used to generate electricity because the price of natural gas has gone up because we now use more natural gas to generate electricity to hold costs down."

They would probably say they didn't start the price escalation but are simply trying to "Milo Manage" it so consumers can pay as much as they want for something they need!

In the end Yossarian concluded there was no official Catch 22 rule but everyone thought there was so there was one. He accepted Milo's extreme business practices because he and his comrades faced daily annihilation. Their very survival called for extreme measures.

If Yossarian were to return, he would be surprised to find the Catch 22 rules he endured under an all-out war are with us yet and again. He wouldn't understand our move toward mega-mergers and unregulated monopolies that encourage price gouging.

In these more civil times, he would be totally flabbergasted to find that the Milo Minderbinders are writing the rules of deregulation economics.

Stork was executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Three Rivers Electric Co-op.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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