Columns » Bob Lancaster

Big air

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I got this from my sources inside ALEC, the Koch waitstaff, the Romney brain trust, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: that high on the agenda of the new order after the big November takeover will be cornering the market on the air that you breathe. The old story of Big Oil will provide the template for the new story of Big Air.

I don't understand the climatology of it, or how they can package up vast portions of the atmosphere, leaving continent-size holes in it as airless as moonscapes, until there are more holes than not, a kind of jigsaw atmosphere with more and more of the pieces missing — but apparently they can, and, greed being their prime directive, their pride and joy and the reason they get up in the morning, at the first opportunity they will.

They'll buy up and divvy up the earth's air, then sell it back to you in discrete little retail units. Or they will if you want you and yours to go on breathing. You'll have to pump it yourself, like you do gasoline. It'll probably be sold by the cubic foot rather than by the gallon. I don't know how you'll get it home — perhaps we'll all have our own economy-size dirigibles. And I suppose everybody will have a big storage tank, like the old silver butane tanks that used to dot the landscape. And you'll have to run out there every minute or so, take a few deep breaths and hold the last one, then hurry on about your business.

There's already technology to pipe the air directly into your home or place of business from the refinery, like they do natural gas, but that sort of system wouldn't be nearly as profitable for the nascent air industry. Big Air executives would get bonuses and pensions only in the tens of millions rather than the hundreds of millions like the Big Oil execs get. Quarterly company profits might be in the billions, but likely only in the low billions.

Getting control over air, and marketing it, might be a bigger challenge, at least at first, than it was for oil. Remember oil was considered pretty much worthless at the time of the first big strikes. But even contemporary 'tards know the importance of air. You can live without oil, as the Amish do, or the yodeling veterinarians of the Alps, but if you don't breathe, you die, and screw that. So there'll have to be some heavy initial propaganda on behalf of free enterprise against the socialist levelers and their never-ending yah-yah about free and equal access. An insignificant air-stamp program, like the extant food-stamp program, might be politically necessary to stay the clamor of those who persist in thinking of free air as an entitlement.  

It says nothing in the Bible about free air, but it does give capitalists — or job creators, as we like to call them now — the right to monopolize vital necessities, even the most basic of them. God gave the Israelites manna, but it was the aspiring merchants among the desert wanderers who collected the stuff in bushel baskets and distributed it on a reasonable schedule, making an honest profit on the deal, honester as the commodity grew scarcer, which is still the standard procedure, how business does business. So it will be with air. There'll be air distributors and air consumers, the former having sucked up and pumped away all the air that used to ferry cumuli over the purple mountains and amber grain, free for moochers for 10,000 years, and having baffled away any brute Alberta clippers or shy nomadic zephyrs trying to seep in to fill the void.  

Expect Big Air to be like Big Oil in many ways. Instead of OPEC we'll have APEC, made up of countries that capture, bale and ship the most and best air, Brazil and Canada being two of the major ones in this hemisphere. We'll have a Cabinet-level Department of Respiration, with a Secretary of Air, perhaps even an Air Czar, but this ministry will be pretty much categorically ignored. Primary transport will be by air supertankers — the nature of their cargo making them harder to sink and not much of a threat to anybody but shareholders in the event of a massive air spill. The Big Air lobby like the Big Oil lobby would bribe congressmen to give them enormous subsidies and to exclude them from clean-air regulation or responsibility, and of course Congress would expect the conventional tit for the conventional tat.

My sources say the air at the pump will come in three grades — not regular, plus, and premium but arm, leg, and firstborn. The lowest grade might stink pretty bad.  Underselling the carefully rigged pump prices by gypsy or "independent" air dealers would be a capital offense. Only Justice Thomas could hear appeals in those cases.

Once Big Air is up and going, it won't be long before the advent of Big Water. Maybe claiming legal custody of just drinking water and rain to start with, but soon the rest of it — cricks, bayous, rivers, lakes, seas, the bounding main, the morning dew — available to you by the quart or the liter at the same convenience store/filling station where you go to get your air. 

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