Critique Example #1

This critique only uses Simpson’s article and the author’s own knowledge of the subject. The more that the author knows about the subject, the more they are able to complete this sort of critique effectively. Note that the critique very clearly references not just whether the critic agrees or not, but also HOW Simpson wrote the article and used his evidence. A Critique can be as much about the writing as it is the content.

Critique of Brian Simpson’s “The Real Culprit of Our Gasoline Woes: Environmentalists”

In “The Real Culprit of Our Gasoline Woes: Environmentalists,” Brian Simpson argues that environmental regulations are THE reason for high gasoline prices. This article, published in the online Capitalism Magazine, argues for the moral rights of the oil industry to drill and refine oil. Environmental concerns are presented as being a plot to sacrifice the needs of humanity for nature. Simpson admits that oil companies are making high profits, but claims that environmental regulations are keeping the companies from using those profits to expand production. Increased global demand is presented as a positive response to the growth of capitalism in the world which will ultimately lead to more production and therefore lower prices. The later part of the article brings up the global warming issue in order to reject it as a real environmental concern. Simpson’s article reflects its online source by arguing that capitalism will solve the problem of high gas prices as long as environmental regulations are removed from the process.

Brian Simpson’s thesis is presented very clearly. In fact, he has a one sentence summary clearly posted at the top of the article and has an introduction that summarizes the main argument quite clearly. The article uses short, simple paragraphs, reflecting a journalistic style rather than the logical-argument supported with direct evidence model used in academic writing. However, while that style makes it easy for the reader to read and follow, it does create problems with using this article as a source for an academic article. Simpson simply doesn’t support ANY of his claims with specific, cited evidence. He quotes several environmentalists in paragraph 13 to support his interpretation of their positions, but nothing is quoted or cited to support his claims about the oil industry. The biographical information given at the end of the article identifies Simpson as an associate professor at National University, so he should be comfortable with using and citing sources. The fact that only quotes when he wants to condemn people with their own words (and the title) pretty clearly indicates that this is more about attacking environmentalists than it is about the cause of high gas prices.

The Price of gas is a complex issue, with many components. There are high taxes, but most are a flat rate that stays the same no matter what the cost of a gallon of gas, and we have to pay for roads and bridges somehow. Supply and demand can account for some of the increase, but the amount of oil being produced worldwide has not gone down recently. Speculators are driving oil prices to new highs, but speculators simply respond to market demands – they will be the first to leave the market as soon as oil prices begin to go down. There is increased global demand as other countries begin using more oil and petroleum byproducts, but that demand hasn’t suddenly increased – it’s been increasing for a while now, including the years when gasoline prices were still low. To reduce the argument down to one cause, whether it’s taxes or the amount of refineries or the amount of oil being produced or the speculation on oil futures or the rising global demand ignores the fact that the real cause is most likely some combination of ALL of those factors. But this doesn’t stop writers with an agenda from using this topic to take one more shot at their favorite targets. Enter Brian Simpson and Capitalism Magazine and their hatred of environmentalists and environmental regulation.

This article very definitely shows the influence of its online home, Capitalism Magazine. The magazine’s website clearly states that it is based on the belief that capitalism and individual freedom is the solution to humanity’s problems. A quick glance at the homepage clearly shows that they are opposed to any sort of regulations by authorities, especially governments. This bias is especially reflected when Simpson adds the comment that the oil industry is having difficulties expanding in many foreign locations due to “anti-capitalist governments, such as those in Venezuela, Russia and Iran” (¶8). At the same time, greater demand from countries like China and India is okay because they have “moved slightly toward capitalism” (¶10). To truly understand Simpson’s arguments, you have to e able to see the world through his perspective, one where capitalism is always correct and regulation of companies is always suspect.

Simpson opens the essay by talking about the hundreds of billions of dollars that oil companies spend each year looking for, pumping and transporting oil (¶2). Later in the essay, he admits that oil companies have higher profits (¶8), but puts the “blame” for that on environmentalists. In other words, the price of gas is high and oil companies are recording record profits, but don’t blame the oil companies. They were forced into those profits by environmental regulations because those regulations make it more difficult to supply enough gasoline for the demand. Simpson wants the regulations to be eliminated to increase the oil companies’ ability to drill and produce more gasoline. According to the logic presented here, that would lower gasoline costs, but it would also lower the oil companies’ profits. I’m not sure why Capitalism Magazine would want to argue for lower profits for a major industry, but maybe I’m just showing my ignorance of economics.

Simpson is correct that refineries do have to change their blends of gasoline during the summer, and that there is usually a price hike while supply of the winter blend dwindles but the summer blend isn’t quite ready yet (¶5). However, this ignores the cause for that change. There are different blends for different seasons in different parts of the country to reduce air pollution or to increase the use of ethanol . What Simpson does not do is to indicate how much of the increased cost of gasoline is due to these changing blends based on local and state regulations. How much would eliminating them change the cost of a gallon of gasoline, and what would the impact be on air pollution?

One of Simpson’s main arguments is that environmental regulations have kept new refineries from being built, with no new refineries in the USA in over thirty years (¶6). Simpson also shares the fact that refining capacity has declined in the USA while demand has increased. But the price of gasoline was low for most of those thirty years, so what has changed in just the past few years? Most of us remember that when Hurrican Katrina hit, the refineries in Texas had lower production for while, and gas prices went up, but then they came back down when the refineries came back into production. There was a refinery in Kansas that flooded recently, which caused local prices to go up temporarily, but then they came down. What has changed in the last few years that is now causing refinery capacity to suddenly not be adequate? Simpson does not answer this question; he simply attacks environmental regulations for making new refineries difficult to build and leaves it at that.

Simpson allows that speculation and growing global demand for oil have increased prices, but claims that they aren’t a true threat to “obtaining these products” (¶ 9). He goes on to argue that speculation is good because the increased price of oil will cause more oil to be available in the future (¶10). However, he does not indicate how this will happen, especially given his earlier claims that oil companies want to spend their profits in exploration and drilling, but can’t because of environmental regulations. If these regulations truly keep companies from finding new sites or new methods, an increase in the profits of speculators isn’t going to change that situation.

As for global demand, Simpson claims that most of this demand comes from countries like China and India “…who have moved slightly toward capitalism…” (¶10) and are increasing their industrial productivity accordingly. Simpson goes on to argue that this increased productivity and capitalism “will ultimately increase the worldwide production of oil and gasoline” (¶10). However, again, Simpson does not actually show how this cause leads to his desired effect. Supply and demand interact with each other, but if there’s only so much oil available, increased demand does not make for an increased supply – it makes for more pressure on the available supply, increasing prices. The only way that Simpson’s argument holds true is if there will be increased exploration and production, despite the environmental regulations that he claims elsewhere in his article make this increase impossible.

In his quest to blame environmental activist and regulations on everything that people don’t like about the economy, Brian Simpson over-reaches. He presents incomplete arguments supported by basic claims that are true, but leaving out the details that clarify the situation. Like most short articles that want to take a complex issue and reduce it down to a simple cause-effect relationship, Simpson’s article ends up reflecting the author’s bias more than explaining the issue. This article could be used in an academic paper to support the claim that this is a point being argued, but the actual argument itself would need to be supported by much stronger sources that actually cited facts, figures and specific examples rather than general unsupported claims.


Works Cited

Simpson, Brian. “The Real Culprit of Our Gasoline Woes: Environmentalists.” Capitalism Magazine. 3 June 2008. 9 June 2008. <http://www.CapMag.com/article.asp?ID=5195>