Protest Ethics: From The Self-Immolation School Of Outrage, But Even Dumber

I can’t assign this to The Great Stupid files, but it’s still astoundingly stupid.

Ren Gladu, owner of Ren’s Mobile Gas Station in the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts (Hampshire College, Amherst and UMass are nearby), announced that he will stop selling gas to protest high gas prices.

“I don’t want to be part of it anymore,” Ren Gladu, owner of Ren’s Mobile, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “This is the biggest ripoff that ever has happened to people in my lifetime.”

Gradu decided he would not charge customers any higher than $4.75 earlier this month, and when ExxonMobil increased the price per gallon by 20 cents for two consecutive days, Gradu put up signs that read “Out of Gas.”

“Dealing with Mobil, they don’t think through their pricing policies anymore,” Gradu stated. “I’ve served their product, but I refuse to do it anymore, because they’re only getting richer.”

Mobil hasn’t thought through its pricing policies? Won’t one of those well-educated college students drop by and explain supply and demand to this poor guy? They might also try to explain that he needs to stop listening to people like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as they try to spin their party out of its self-inflicted inflation disaster.

Ethics Alarms hold that most protests are self-defeating, illogical and unethical, but Gradu’s is special. It’s pure grandstanding without any useful protest value at all. Even when some nut set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam war or China’s abuse of Tibet, a lot of people would think, “Wow, he really deeply cares about this issue!” A protest like this makes one think, “Wow, what an idiot!”

Let’s see:

  • His “protest” only inconveniences his customers, who still have to buy gas. Now they’ll have to drive farther to buy it, using more gas, and costing them more money.
  • It is highly dubious that oil companies are profiting from raising prices. Inflation affects their costs too, and if high prices reduce sales, they’ll lose money.
  • Meanwhile, with less competition thank to his protest, other gas station operators can raise their prices  to meet the increased demand.
  • His protest might make sense using the “if everybody does it, then the oil companies might do something” theory. That. however, only is a possibility when the first protest has some positive effect, and this one can’t and won’t. It’s like me deciding not to drive in order to protest high gas prices. My protest wouldn’t have a tiny, incremental effect that could be magnified if more and more people did it. Like Ren’s bone-headed move, it wouldn’t have any impact at all. The chances of enough people emulating a grandstanding protest accomplishing nothing are zip, so the “but if everybody does it!” fantasy is delusional.

Ren Gradu’s protest can’t appropriately be attributed to The Great Stupid, because it has nothing to do with the progressive insanity that began descending over the land in the Obama years and became pathological in 2020 with the George Floyd riots and the nation’s self-inflicted wounds in response too the pandemic. No, his is just good, old fashioned stupidity, the result of bad schools, incompetent mass media, and the diminishing critical thinking skills of the American public.

34 thoughts on “Protest Ethics: From The Self-Immolation School Of Outrage, But Even Dumber

  1. Every time there is a big spike in gas prices there is the gouging issue. It has been investigated in the past which has shown nothing of significance. Now it has surfaced again as a lifeline to a desperate political party. For the first quarter 2022 Exxon Mobil had a net profit margin of 6.25%. That is not exactly gouging.

  2. I’ve checked: Exxon’s “record profits” last quarter amount to a net margin of about 6%. That’s high for the energy sector, which usually hovers around 4-5%, but it’s hardly a beacon of corporate greed. Soft drink companies operate around an 11% margin. Banks? Try 20%, if not 30%.

      • Did you know that the answer was Biden, or is this you being reminded? Because it’s funny either way, but forgetting that the Senator from Mastercard was none other than Joe Biden adds layers.

        • It was a pun… or maybe a palindrome…?
          No, that’s not it… Ironic Rhetorical Sarcasm, or some combination of those words, possibly.

          I knew, but think many have forgotten, or don’t want to be reminded, that Joe’s “friend of the working man” schtick is not supported by past performance, but trotted out when convenient. Just an accompaniment to his continuing performance as a fabulist.

  3. I think it’s safe to attribute Ren’s idiocy to the Great Stupid. Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, AOC, Kamala Harris, Ron Klain, The Boston Globe. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts! Amherst. UMass. All the usual suspects. It’s in the air Ren breaths and the water he drinks.

    • Yep. He is buying into the “greedflation” thing being thrown around by that desperate political party mentioned above.

      Somehow, corporate greed has finally made its mark, after hundreds of years of waiting in the shadows for this perfect moment.

      • And by the way, let’s hear it for greed, aka self-interest. It’s the only reliable human motivating force. It’s why capitalism, unlike anything else, works. Socialism and Communism and even altruism are always undone by greed/self-interest. Because greed/self-interest is indispensable to capitalism, being in its DNA, capitalism always works.

        • That reminds me of the Soviet Union, where many (most?) of the peasants would have a private plot of land that they used to raise crops just for themselves, as opposed to the collective farm. The Communists knew, even if they never publicly admitted it, that they didn’t dare suppress these plots because they were the most productive part of Soviet agriculture (or so I recall). If they’d eliminated this toehold of free enterprise, the whole country would be likely to starve.

          I was also just listening to a podcast about whether the whole Soviet economy was on the verge of collapse in 1942. The author ultimately believed that it was, because so many men were taken off farms and conscripted into the army. It evidently was a near run thing. Part of the margin for survival was the Lend Lease pipeline from the United States, with untold quantities of machinery and equipment (and trucks!).

          We like to think that the Nazis lost because they overreached militarily, and that’s true, but it’s also possible their military conquests could have destroyed the USSR without an actual military victory.

          We are reading now of possible famine in the world because grain and food exports from Ukraine have been disrupted. Ukraine in the 1940s was then also the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, and it was overrun by the Germans in 1941.

          • Whew. That’s interesting. I always assumed it was only the leadership of the Soviet Union that were, uh, entrepreneurial, for lack of a better word, with their cars and dachas and other accoutrement of being more equal than the hardy proletariat. I wonder how things would have played out if Germany had over run a collapsed USSR? Maybe with Russian resources they could have won a war on a single front. Yikes.

            • Well, ultimately, I think they would have lost — Germany was really just not a world power. It would probably have taken longer and cost more, but I think the U.S. and its allies would have overwhelmed them in the end. Also, there likely would have been a rump successor state to the USSR which might only have been twice as big as Germany. The Germans had no clue as to the size of the country they were attempting to conquer.

              Speaking of resources, though, that might have been a problem for the Nazis to produce. If in our hypothetical, the Soviet Union collapses, it might well be because large numbers of their citizens were starving. Do we think the Nazi regime would have moved to solve that because they were such humanitarians?

    • I was thinking the same thing. Blaming greedy corporations for everything is the lifeblood of the Democratic Party and has been for years. The Party couldn’t exist if it didn’t have scapegoats for all of life’s problems.

      • I almost wrote that Ren needed to accept responsibility and blame himself as one of the Biden voters who swallowed the absurd climate change narrative that the U.S. cutting back on production would or could have any effect on future climate effects at all. A minimum amount of research would have informed him; instead, he relied on sources that have proven repeatedly to be dishonest, biased, and wrong.

        No, I do not believe that there is any chance that he didn’t vote for Biden or, for that matter, Elizabeth Warren.

        • There’s no way he’d consider a vote for Biden to have anything at all to do with the current price of gas. He’s the type of Dem who thinks more of what the radical left is proposing is required, NOT less. If Build Back Better and the Green New Deal had gotten through Congress, everything would be hunky dory! It’s just the obstructionist Republicans who’ve screwed everything thing up. And, of course, if the Democrats lose control of the House and Senate, it will be the end of Democracy. Everyone knows that!

  4. I just don’t think he gets the economics of the situation.

    It is probably true that the gas companies are making records profits, but it is not because they are gouging people; it is because OPEC is.

    -Jut

    • Record profits – if you want to call a 2% differential a record- result from less investment in production. Not all investment costs can be capitalized over the long term so all costs associated with current year amortization is non-existent. This can account for any disparity (increase) in reportable profits. The reduced amount of investment in both drilling and – more importantly) refining capacity results directly from new SEC guidelines that punish fossil fuel producers, ESG scoring that drives away investors and Treasury policies that threaten banks that lend to producers. There is no reason why producers are inclined to invest in any gas or diesel refining capacity increases when the current administration has doubled down on ending fossil fuels. Biden’s advisors care little about the economic calamity they are creating. I want to start rationing jet fuel so Kerry, and the rest of the globalist elite will either have fly their solar jets around the globe or fly commercial with the hoi- poloi to the climate conferences.

      • Chris Marschner,

        I am not sure about actual numbers. However, it would not surprise me if OPEC is keeping the cost of gas artificially high by limiting supply. Rather, I should say that they always keep the costs artificially high by restricting supply, but, America’s current energy policy is allowing them to do that with impunity. There is little to no threat that private oil companies are going to be able to increase production or lowers transportation costs. Those sorts of things can force OPEC to increase supply and lowers prices. So, it would not surprise me if private companies are making greater profits than usual.

        -Jut

        • We have not been able to build a refinery due to regulations and legal battles for many years. Our refineries are are operating at 94 % which means no time for maintenance and repair. I would not be surprised if a major accident did not occur as a result of Biden’s threat of nationalizing the industry using the DPA. Middle Eastern suppliers don’t refine the gasoline and diesel we use and all those leases Biden claims oil firms are sitting on most are being stalled in court or by the permitting process and if you cannot borrow or get investment to finance drilling at a profitable rate because of government policies then OPEC will call the shots while Russia sends its crude at a discount to the CCP and other adversaries. Geopolitically, Biden has effectively killed our ability to produce what we need to defend ourselves. We sit on more energy reserves in than even Saudi Arabia an Iran combined

        • Jut,
          Do you think this could be a little payback on the part of OPEC for the “years of Trump,” when US domestic crude, & LNG production was so successful that we were a net exporter and kept the spot market price depressed, cutting OPEC revenues?

          Just thinking out loud,

          MB

  5. I was an engineer at a refinery. Now as a woman, my boss’s boss thought that I was incompetent (and was known to say that women should be in a home making her man happy instead of in an engineering department) and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to teach me mostly stuff I already knew. However, one day, his lecture was on the financials of the refining world and it rocked my whole world view. I’ll share it to emphasize the stupidity of this man and his protest.

    In general, a refinery is doing FANTASTIC and making a screaming amount of money if they can optimize their operation so much as to make 10 cents profit per gallon on gasoline. Think of that. That is not a large profit per gallon.

    Normally however, a refinery does not make ten cents on the gallon. That is WAY more money than they typically make. A refinery that makes specialized products from cheap oil in a niche market for sales can maybe pull that off. Perhaps a huge company that refines millions of barrels a day can make that when everything is working the way it is supposed to, but most companies cannot pull that off.

    Most refineries make around or slightly above $0.10 a BARREL of oil. So for every 42 gallons they produce, they make a profit of $0.10 which is about 0.2 cents per gallon. I have a hard time accusing oil companies of greed with that small of profit on their product. Mosquito spray, as an example, creates better than a dollar profit for the entire can. Now, if a refinery takes in 100,000 barrels per day of oil, assuming volume swell (when you refine, you get more volume due to taking thick oils and dropping them to gasoline and diesel), they can make between $10K and $100K a day, usually between 30 and 50K.

    A refinery may see millions of dollars go in the bank every day, but the majority goes out as a combination of the cost of raw materials (oil, refrigerant, catalysts), the cost of utilities (it takes a lot of natural gas, electricity and water to make gasoline), maintenance (the process of refining eats steel, requiring a lot of work on pipes, much less keeping pumps, compressors, etc running), and labor (you have to have people to run the place). Profit margins are very small and while they make money, it is on volume, not by item.

      • Tim,

        I would actually disagree that crack spreads are very useful in most discussions. Crack spreads are the oil industries discussion on commodity pricing. You buy X for $Y and sell for $Z. If Z is greater than Y, you make money. However, Y and Z fluctuate with market pressure. This seems nice, but oil is more complex than that. While crack spreads are important (and drive a great deal of profit), they do not account for the cost to refine.

        As a painful memory and good example, one summer we used a Canadian crude that cost us WTI-17. That means $17 less than West Texas Intermediate. The crack spreads on that stuff was phenomenal and we could make bank. EXCEPT, that stuff was made up of fuel gas and vac bottoms, so it required a huge amount of refining and rocked the process because it was so unusual. It was also crazy sour and ate through our pipes like nobody’s business as we went from mils/year to miles per hour in certain sections of pipe (leaks developed, which is insanely dangerous). It also was full of heavy metals. It coked up my GOHT catalyst so badly that we nearly collapsed the reactor internals (which would have killed people). We had vanadium coating everything that oil touched ruining catalyst like nobody’s business. I personally saw around $10MM of catalyst ruined from this stuff, and that was only my units. Crack spreads said we made money that summer. Operationally, we did not make anywhere near as much as crack spreads indicate, and our pencil pushers kept asking why the numbers weren’t adding up.

        If you like crack spreads, just remember they are like thermodynamics. They only tell the best case scenario, not the likely one.

        • Jack, you could monetize EA by forming a consulting firm using the commentariat. Is there any area of expertise not represented here? Amazing.

        • Thanks for both of those posts, Sarah. It’s always nice to hear more detailed information from someone with actual knowledge in the field.

      • A HUGE round of applause from a biomedical engineer, industrial hygienist, heath physicist, and more, Sarah! You accomplished what I always strove for in my teaching: making the complex easy to understand in few words. Your expository remarks are superb!
        MB

  6. No one was flipping out when the fuel prices went into negative territory during Covid. Just saying, this is the opposite consequences of “low prices curing low prices”. Farmers have the same accusations, funny how there’s a future commodities market that dictates both things. Ie the future expectations of supply which the Biden Admin and the Bandwagon of environmental business practices for financing have sent future investment of both sectors into the extremely risky category. Clearly this is the “new normal” the intellectuals wanted to save us all, or perhaps destroy us because they’re feeling guilty I’m not sure which. Regardless, enjoy the harvest.

    • Second that comment. When oil is $10 a barrel, you never hear Biden or other politicians wanting to do something about windfall losses in the oil industry.

      I realize I am prejudiced on this matter, but I lived in West Texas during the 80s when oil prices were in the cellar, and I can remember Midland / Odessa practically being ghost cities because the oil industry was in a depression.

      On the gripping hand, I also understand that this helped ensure the downfall of the Soviet Union, so that was a very good plus.

  7. I was very surprised to read about this in the Gazette (I live just outside Amherst). Ren has been the very model of a dedicated local merchant for nearly a half-century. performing many acts of generosity for the community. I don’t recall him ever taking such a stand previously. Amherst is of course uber-progressive, and these have been stressful times for business owners. But I have to wonder whether something else is going on here.

  8. I wish I could be less cynical. My first thought at reading this is that the guy’s business is already struggling, and he’s looking for free attention. This little virtue signaling stunt is tailor-made to attract support from the college kids that populate Amherst. Gas stations reportedly don’t make much profit on fuel sales, but make it up on the overpriced snacks, beer, and convenience items they sell. The sorts of things college kids buy in large quantity.

    The only point that gives me pause is that it’s summer, so most of those kids are elsewhere. His timing is way off if that was his goal.

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