5.05.2007

What a Gas

With apologies to my mother-in-law, who forwarded me the message, I
have to respond in the negative to the "don't buy gas on May 15th"
message that's been circulating lately. So many things to say, I'm
practically tripping over my fingers trying to get everything out.

Where to start? First, there doesn't appear to be anything in the
message about actually consuming less gas, just not buying it on one
day. Oil companies don't sweat a one-day dip in sales, especially if
they know consumers who didn't buy on May 15th will just have to buy
later that week if in fact they're not actually reducing their gas
consumption.

Second, a major contention of this "don't buy gas" sentiment is that
gas is too expensive. We really are addicted to cheap gas in this
country. Bush the Elder cut a deal with the Saudis over 25 years ago
that Clinton and Bush II have kept, and so it's been a generation
since gas prices have truly been painful to our pockets.

Most of the world pays double or triple the price we pay, not because
they're stupid but because that's the true price of gas, when you
factor in the social, infrastructural, and environmental cost of
consuming it. They then use some of those proceeds to encourage other
forms of travel that aren't nearly as costly, like transit lines and
bike paths.

So you'll have to forgive me for being riled up about complaints about
"expensive" gas when our region's transit system is perennially
under-funded and is again forced to consider fare hikes, which will be
disproportionately borne by the poorest among us. But I guess people
would rather pay less than they should at the pump and screw the poor.

Besides, when gas spiked through that mystical $3 per gallon barrier,
guess what happened to consumption? It kept soaring. Sure, we
complained more, but wouldn't you complain about a good whose price
was posted in big font along the roadside, and that when you paid for
it, you watched the dollars and cents roll up as you pumped it into
your car? As we complained, we continued to drive just as much, and
so we had to fill up just as much.

Finally, the tone of this message is that the oil companies have
gotten over on us, and so we should take special delight in getting
back at them. Last I checked, gas prices behave like every other
product in a capitalist system: changes in supply and demand cause
changes in prices.

As former Philadelphia Inquirer Andrew Cassel once wrote, if you think
the oil companies are gouging you, then the next time you think about
selling that house of yours that has appreciated considerably since
you bought it, you should give the buyer a healthy discount, because
it's just not fair that you should be able to sell something for a lot
more than you bought it for, even though it's the same house. Never
mind that that's exactly the point of supply and demand.

I'm probably not going to buy gas on May 15th, just because my family
drives our car an average of like 10 miles a day. But if you're
boycotting gas stations intentionally that day, I hope you'll redirect
your efforts in other, more productive directions. Because going a
day without buying gas isn't the solution, nor is the problem you
think the real problem.

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