Short memory on gas prices prevents progress

It’s happening again. Gas prices are inching upward, approaching and soon to breach $4 a gallon with some experts saying that even higher prices are possible. Local, state and national media outlets are going to gas stations, sticking cameras and microphones into the faces of motorists to garner their opinion. People don’t like price increases. They say all manner of colorful things into these microphones and cameras. Good bites. Good bites, all.

But just three years ago we were living out the same story, with the same gas prices for largely the same reasons. It was almost as bad about two years prior to that. Is this part of the day-to-day coverage and discussion that most Americans get as part of their cursory news consumption? Not really. We study history in school, but the recent past has no meaning or context in our world.

We learn that gas prices are straining the economy and President Obama’s re-election chances, two things influenced by myriad other issues as well. But gas prices make a lot more sense to everyday folks than the actual underpinnings of our economy and political system, and so that’s what we are instructed to be outraged about.

In 2008 I bought a small SUV that gets 19 mpg in the middle of our last gas crisis. That may not seem wise, and maybe it wasn’t, but I live on the end of a muddy second-day-plow dirt road and could no longer tolerate being paralyzed in the wilderness every time we got more than six inches of snow or during spring thaw. Still, this whole justification runs contrary to the economic incentive I would otherwise have to run a smaller vehicle and live closer to my place of employment. In a nutshell, we are middle class and have no debt except our mortgage. We can handle the price increase, and so we will.

Can you? Can the working poor? Hell if I know. Certainly not comfortably. But let’s not sit here and be surprised. Nothing has changed in our public policy nor in our attitudes about the use of petroleum products. As a society we continue to double down on the “big cars driving long distances” model, which will work fine as long as I am a college instructor instead of a sheet metal fabricator, and I don’t pretend otherwise. Even if gas goes over $7 a gallon, I can do vast amounts of my work from home, as could many of my colleagues and the students we teach. I expect that I will have to do just that in the not-so-distant future.

Nobody likes $4 gas, or $5 gas, or anything that pinches our monthly budget. But no amount of boosterism by the oil industry or green energy advocates can produce a path back to $2 gas. Get over it. Make a plan. And TV news, still the biggest source of news for most people, could do a lot more to put this issue in proper context.

Comments

  1. What’s happened to all the outrage expressed three years ago…when high oil prices were the fault of the president??

    Now it’s simply — “Even if gas goes over $7 a gallon, get over it”??? Wow..

  2. If gas goes over $5/gal. (I agree that’ll be low ball), look for things to get a little nutty. I could careless, for the last 3 years, I pedal a bike year round. -40 and snow, I pedal; 45 and rain, I pedal. The only complant I have, is…. I don’t live far enough away from work!! Yeah, I guess that sounds kind of sick, but I love turning the pedals, whatever the weather!!
    We are a car 1st nation, and until that changes; things will stay the same!! People will belly ache, and be angry, and nothing will change. Nothing will change when someone else moves into the white house, because at the end of the day, they are all the same!! No matter which party it is!! One thing I really enjoy is pedaling past a gas station and seeing the people filling ‘er up and staring at me as I ride by. It my own sick kind of humor!! So if ya see a guy pedaling by you on a bike with 4″ tires give a wave, and I’ll try to keep my smile to myself!! ;))

    Peace

  3. @Ranger47, In practicality not much has changed from three years ago; that’s my point. That said, I think a lot more anger was directed at President Bush because of his administration’s very specific ties to the oil industry.
    @Joboo, you have my respect! If I didn’t live on family land out in the woods I’d be right there with you. 🙂

  4. Aaron…ok. But explain for me…

    Three years ago. Gas prices rise >> anger at Bush..because he has ties to oil.

    Today. Gas prices rise >> no anger at Obama..because he has no ties to oil.

    Therefore, gas goes up whether a president has ties to oil or not…Correct? Does the left owe an apology to Bush?

  5. Ranger47~~~~
    don’t you know??? It’s still Bush’s fault!!
    Gee come on, keep up with the Bush bashing!! Lol
    Nothing is obama’s fault!!
    He’s the best prez of all time!!! NOT!!!

    Peace

  6. Obama stated that high gas prices “weren’t necessarily bad”. it would force us to change our gas guzzling ways. He’s an elitist Liberal who feels all people live in cities, don’t tow boats and have 1.3 kids. Obama is a joke and the Left defends every idiotic thing he does.
    NEWS FLASH: drill here in America for oil….. Obama gave 2 billion to Petrobras, a Brazilian state run oil company, and said “we’ll be your best clients”. I can’t even guess what he was thinking. By the way that was OUR 2 billion he gave Petrobras from the 850 billion stimulus package that was going to keep unemployment down under 8%.
    Defend that…..

  7. Most Americans do live in metropolitan areas. More Americans are moving to metropolitan areas. I agree that a metro-centric plan isn’t the best for the Range, but you shouldn’t talk past the fact that population trends are changing and we have to find balance. There’s a reason that exurban growth stopped cold when the last gas price spike happened.

    Listen, I’m not going to get into the weeds on our typical red vs. blue arguments. We could spend a full week and 50 comments not changing our minds. I know this because we do that every other week. That said, we can’t drill our way out of the problem. We don’t have the supply to maintain our current usage of oil. Even domestic oil is expensive to extract and refine. These prices are what they are. I don’t think it’s fair that oil companies get to extract so much profit from the situation. I don’t begrudge them for trying, but I do think there’s an argument for taxing some of that profit for the public good, when the public is bearing the burden. That’s a political opinion; I don’t expect you to agree with it. I’m trying to explain the perspective of Obama and his supporters (Yes, including me) to you for the purpose of understanding.

    As I’ve said here — and this really is the point of what I’m saying — we, including myself, who live in rural areas or the suburbs will have some difficult budget choices to make over the next 20 years. I don’t think it will kill us; but it’s an economic reality that people seem unwilling to own up to either politically or culturally. That’s all.

  8. We have many many years of oil, natural gas and coal to extract right here in the USA. We won’t give the permits to get it out or we try to tax it out of a price range that makes it competitive. Explain that please.

    We’ve given billions to “green technology” and we get less than 1% of our counties energy from renewables as of today.

    Every time we raise the price of energy it’s a consumption tax to every person. Even the sacred middle class that Obama is so concerned about.

    Obama’s policies haven’t created jobs, lowered price of anything we buy, gotten us out of a war (entered another one) and the price tag is a deficit that doubled the reckless spending Bush by double….. Are you defending that???????

  9. “I don’t think it’s fair that oil companies get to extract so much profit from the situation. I don’t begrudge them for trying, but I do think there’s an argument for taxing some of that profit for the public good, when the public is bearing the burden.”

    The oil companys make a reasonable profit for their work each year. The amount of money sounds huge when you only report the earnings, but most news sources fail to mention that the companys also spend an enormous amount of money each year.

    I do not have the actual numbers handy, but I seem to remember that most of the oil companys made a 10% to 15% profit in recent years. It may be many billions of dollars, but it is still only 15% profit.

    Tax them excessivly and the tax will just get past on to the consumers.

    C.O.

  10. The fact that we can’t drill enough to entirely supply our need does not constitute an argument against drilling.

  11. C.O., thank you…. When you tax national companies they pass it on to us, when you over tax local companies they move. I agree that all companies should/must pay taxes, but to say that hiking taxes on the oil business is our answer to balance our books is crazy. I don’t hear the left screaming about Jeffery Immelt and GE (our “green” leader) not paying taxes on 5 billion profit made here in the USA. It’s those nasty oil companies and of course lets not forget the “evil, fat cat, rich folks”. Can Obama’s administration and Gov Dayton give the class warfare a break?

    We as a state and country spend way too much. We need to pull back in every area.

  12. The gang’s all here. 🙂

    I can’t extrapolate all of this out to a wholescale budget discussion. Government has grown since WWII for a lot of reasons. Our inefficient, illogical health care delivery system is among the biggest reasons for our non-defense deficit — but do not be fooled, defense is our biggest expense.

    OK, so I was just giving a poke back on my opinion about oil company profits. I understand your point, C.O., and I’m not saying the oil companies aren’t doing important work; they are. I am saying that we base our whole economy on cars driving places, including include a political system that builds and maintains very expensive highway infrastructure while spending less per capita on public transit that most prosperous countries. After wars, health care and social security, government spends the most on infrastructure based on the cars-first principle. (Again, I can’t wave a wand to change this; just recognizing the reality of it).

    Right, so we can drill more in America. I agree, @David Gray, that it shouldn’t be discounted out of hand. Sure, we can drill safely in a lot of cases, less safely in others, imprudently in yet others. All of it together won’t bring down gas prices significantly, nor will it alleviate our need to import. It will sustain our supply and buttress against wild price spikes. But to what end? The outcome seems the same any time I game out the simulations.

    “Drill here, drill now” won’t change the gas price equation much more than willful thinking on the part of liberals will address structural debt in the federal government. Fundamentally, I am less interested in the demagoguery over gas price increases as President Obama’s fault, when — to me — it appears that Obama (yes, whom I support) is only proving the limits of what a president can do on matters like this.

    I know I’m talking to four of my favorite regulars here, all four of whom generally vote and philosophize a little differently than me on politics. What I’m saying here is related to our nation’s inability to plan policy for reality, instead of arguing on the false ground of our inaccurate cultural political divisions.

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