TECHNOLOGY innovations are invariably hailed for their efficiency and convenience but might also be thought of as "power grabs" benefiting one sector to the detriment of another.
For a century, coal miners did one of the most brutal and dangerous jobs of the Industrial Revolution. After a long struggle they became organized to the point of being able to get wages and benefits commensurate with the rigors. But they began to be perceived as having too much power, via the United Mine Workers. In 1947, a threatened nation wide strike was squashed by President Truman on the grounds that the strike was a detriment to the interests and security of the nation.
To curb what was viewed as the excessive political and economic influence of the UMW, domestic coal was replaced by Middle East oil for home heating. From 1950 to 1973, the price of Saudi oil remained at a negligible $2 per barrel, stimulating industry and the rise of the auto.
Home heat was more convenient. With coal, a ton at a time had to be delivered to the cellar. The cast-iron furnace had to be fed and ignited by hand, the ashes raked out and put out with the trash. It was difficult to maintain a stable temperature, and in the wee hours, the fire tended to go out, so the morning wakeup was a bit chilly.
But in 1973 the OPEC producers cartel determined to charge what the market would bear, so the price rapidly rose, with no alternatives, from $2.53 per barrel in 1970 to $41 in 1980. Then came the due bill for the military protection of the supply and supply lines of oil.
Improved technologies would have ameliorated the pollution problems of heating with coal. Would it have been more difficult to negotiate with the allegedly "high-handed" UMW than to become involved in endless international imbroglios? We now seem to be caught in a trap of our own devise.
Jim Hunter, Philadelphia