Sunday, July 27, 2008

Not-So-Easy Pickens

I’m already driving a Honda Civic, but when I fill my gas tank lately, I pay with Ulysses S. Grant and get back change in George Washingtons. According to T. Boone Pickens, “this is one crisis we can’t drill our way out of,” and he has been an oil-man his whole life. Except when he was a natural gas man, a corporate raider and hostile-takeover pirate, and hedge-fund douser. Now he is a prairie wind man and a solar energy man. He wants to build a nationwide network of filling stations pumping All-American natural gas, generate electricity with wind, solar, and other technologies, like nuclear power plants. Pickens has long been active in Texas Republican politics and was a major money source for the candidacies of George Bush, both for Governor and President. T. Boone Pickens staked the Swift Boat squads against John Kerry.

Pickens is 80. His first entrepreneurial enterprise was as an eleven-year-old newspaper delivery boy, taking a route of 28 subscribers and building it to 156, an early introduction to "expanding quickly by acquisition," he explains. My buddy Luther did the same thing when we were kids. My first job was helping Luther deliver his Atlanta Journal paper route on our bicycles. He paid me 25-cents per day. In two years Luther doubled the size of his paper route and my pay. Every job I’ve ever had since was one working for somebody who had more money and was better at making it than I was. T. Boone Pickens has described his business philosophy as, “Anybody made money today … Anybody got an idea for how we can make any money … Am I the only one trying to make money around here?” I have to confess, I have more faith that the current energy crisis is more likely to be addressed by the itch to make a buck than to make a law. This faith is not worship of unbridled laissez-faire capitalism; it is just reality.

T. Boone Pickens promotes alternatives to oil. He wants to use windmills to generate the 22 percent of U.S. electricity currently provided by natural gas, then burn that natural gas in our cars and trucks instead of 38 percent of imported foreign oil. Pickens is spending many millions on television advertising, probably more money than all the Presidential candidates will have at their disposal for campaign advertising. Pickens personal wealth is estimated in the billions. Maybe T. Boone Pickens will give us a better shake than the sheiks of Araby. I can just hear some wisecracker standing in the Oklahoma-Texas border country dust, “If we could figure a way to make money out of the whirling wind and blistering sun, we’d be rich.” And T. Boone Pickens’ eyes light up.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


No spring chicken said...

Thanks for the background on Pickens, which I didn't know, but no matter.
I don't have a lot of faith in the federal government's problem solving abilities. Somebody's got to make money on the solution to this problem, and I've been thinking already that it would probably be a bad thing if the prices of the gas stations dropped, because the incentive to to develop, and consume, new energy sources (and the equipment to use them) would drop at the same time.
I've been doing a good amount of writing on food costs, which are getting crazy, too (related obviously in good part to the energy issues). I'm thinking of stockpiling tuna because I just saw a news segment on the way the cost of fuel hitting the fishing industry.
Awful as it is, we may need to be ouch! factor to get real changes made.

Tina said...

You done good, Bill...fine column.

Luther said...

When I first took it over, my paper route consisted of approximately 75 subscribers, if I remember correctly, covering an area bordered by Peachtree St and Juniper between 10th Street and 8th Street. I extended it to some adjacent streets when they became available and doubled the route, as you report. Any similarities between myself and T. Boone Pickens ends there. If he really wanted to make an impact and not just make money, he could buy or start an automobile company and begin producing vehicles that ran on something other than gasoline. There are many technologies to choose from, some older than Mr. Pickens, who probably has heard of the Stanley Steamer.


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