Financial Sense: Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work

January 30, 2013

Robert Rapier, Jan. 29- The Unicorn Analogy

There is a reason I don’t ride a unicorn to work.

It isn’t because it’s too far to work. Nor is it because it rains here in Hawaii nearly every day and I might get wet. It isn’t because the powerful automobile lobby has convinced me that driving a car to work is a better option for me. No, it’s a bit more fundamental than that.

I don’t ride a unicorn to work because unicorns don’t exist.

But imagine the following scenario. A number of companies claim that they are developing unicorns, and in 3 years they will be commercially available. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks “Hey, this is a great idea. It would be a more environmentally friendly method of transport. Let’s force automakers to start selling these unicorns in 3 years. We will base our projections on how many unicorns these unicorn companies say they will produce. After that we will increase the number the automakers must sell in each subsequent year, and then force the automakers to pay up if they don’t meet these quotas.”

Now imagine that the unicorn companies fail to produce the unicorns, and instead of waiving the unicorn mandate the EPA merely reduces the number of unicorns that the automakers must sell. The unicorn companies that over-promised get a free pass on their inflated claims, while the automakers are still penalized for not selling enough non-existent unicorns.

Cellulosic Ethanol Mandate

Consumers are at least scientifically literate enough to recognize the absurdity of this scenario. Even if they hate the auto industry, they understand that since unicorns don’t exist it would be unfair to punish the auto industry for not selling them. But replace the auto industry in this scenario with the oil industry, and unicorns with cellulosic ethanol — and this is an accurate description of what the EPA did.