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Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street by Aaron Brown

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The Banks of the Potomac

This is all background to the summer I spent working on the U.S. government standby gas-rationing plan. One of my jobs was to figure out how much fuel would be needed to harvest crops and get food to market. I'm a city boy, so I needed to ask whether tractors run on diesel fuel or gasoline. I called the Department of Agriculture and got passed around until I found the right guy. He was out. So I called Ford Motor Company, and found an economist who had just finished modeling the U.S. tractor market. He told me 75 percent of the tractors ran on diesel and gave me a lot of supporting detail.

The Agriculture guy called me back later. I already had the answer, but I figured I'd listen to him anyway to be polite. He had also just finished a model, and told me that 25 percent of the tractors ran on diesel. I said, “You mean 25 percent run on gasoline.” No, he insisted it was 25 percent diesel. I told him what the Ford guy had said and he snorted that Ford was only talking about new sales, not the existing stock. That wasn't true; I had all the supporting numbers from Ford. We discussed them at some length and he had answers to all the points I made, giving me his own supporting detail. I checked those with Ford. That guy said Agriculture was counting old tractors rusting in barns or that had been sold to Mexico in the 1950s (not true).

So I started calling farmers, and garage mechanics in agricultural areas, and fuel suppliers and refineries. The more I learned ...

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