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Friday, May 28, 2004

High gas prices

Arianna Huffington has a good column about rising gas prices and how there is something fishy going on. I think there is a certain reluctance on the part of many liberals to criticize escalating prices at the pump, even though it's clearly a straightforward soaking of the average consumer under an oil-friendly administration, because there is the continuing hope that if gas prices go high enough, then people will learn to conserve.
While conservation is an important goal, making small improvements in conservation on the backs of consumers is the worst possible way of going about it. For one thing, it's bad P.R.--it's not a good way to get working class people back on board with liberalism by arguing that their backs should be broken with high gas prices. If anything comes off as elitist posturing, it's a bunch of liberals suggesting that if gas prices just get high enough, then ordinary working class Americans will learn to cut back and do with less. In fact, that sounds suspiciously like the conservative blame-the-victim reasoning. You know, the kind that blames poverty on the poor for being lazy for instance.
When I hear a well-meaning liberal suggest that it's good for me to pay more at the pump, because maybe I'll learn to conserve, I get all red in the face. What shall I cut back on? Driving to work? Buying groceries? Or should I learn to suck it up and never see my friends again to cut out that less than 5% of my driving that is service of socializing? I imagine that most people feel the same as I do. Should they quit their jobs? Take their kids out of school?
Granted, it would have been better if more people had blown off the big SUV craze and purchased fuel-efficient vehicles. (Maybe I deserve to have a job and friends because I "sacrificed" and purchased a fuel-efficient vehicle.) But while it's fun to point and laugh at SUV drivers who are regretting thinking that the big car=big dick a few years ago, it doesn't really do much to help two of the biggest liberal goals, to help the enviroment and to help ordinary people.
Like it or not, rising gas prices is just another example of how money is getting redirected from the pockets of people who need it to those who don't. Driving is simply not an optional activity for the majority of Americans. So, if you look at it for a moment outside of enviromental concerns, one thing is clear. With the administration's help, oil companies are making record profits by rapidly inflating the cost of living of ordinary people. And that's a problem.
But luckily, by taking the issue to the top both the concerns of ordinary people and the enviroment can be addressed. Huffington goes into this in detail. But there's even more than what she suggests that can be done to help both people and the enviroment. For one thing, escalating housing costs need to be addressed, so that middle class people can afford to live closer to where they work. It's time to get out of the old, blame-the-victim way of thinking and start looking at the big picture.


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