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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Gas prices are just right
Jonathan Pait
October 17, 2005

Dr. Cooper, please consider that real life isn’t a text book.

In your recent opinion piece written for GSA Business, you make the case that “gasoline prices are still too darn cheap.”  You go on to make the proper point that until prices reach a certain point (you believe it to be five dollars a gallon), there will be no motivation for finding alternative fuels or ways to better use the fuel we have.  I understand your point, but see it from a different perspective.

I’m not academic – especially in the field of economics.  I’m a husband and dad with three kids.  I have a mortgage so I can have a place for my family to live and sleep, vehicles to move my family from place to place and, yes, energy expenses to heat and cool that house and put gas in those vehicles to keep them running.  It all costs money.

Let’s take on this SUV thing first.  You say, “SUVs should not be considered standard issue in displaying our success.”  Has it ever crossed your mind that some people don’t drive SUVs because they want to show off?  If I wanted to show off, I wouldn’t be driving my dated Suburban.  However, my Suburban is a big help to my family.

It is safe.  Sure, it means my wife might squash the car that runs into it.  But my family is safer.  Take into account all the requirements to have your children safely secured in a vehicle – the front passenger seat doesn’t count.  Throw in the fact that you want to take someone else along with you and all the things that go along with it and, wow, you have filled that truck up!

Can a Suburban driver be responsible?  Yes.  We fill our truck up once a month.  We drive our other vehicle as much as possible because of its better gas mileage.  I should be getting a Vespa in the next week or so to use as a commuter to and from work.  However, the little red car and the silver Vespa aren’t going to help us get to Grandma’s with all the Christmas presents.

You say that there are alternatives to the “fuel hungry” SUVs.  Okay, we’ll grant you that.  However, I have a SUV.  I don’t have the alternative.  How many tanks of gas would I have to burn before I could make the alternative worth it – especially seeing those alternatives are more expensive?  A bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush.  It all looks good on the chalkboard in the classroom, but there are some of us out here having to live economics – not just study them.

Gas prices aren’t too darn cheap.  Nearly everyone I talk with is altering the way they use fuels.  People I know are making changes when it comes time to buy that new car.  One of the reasons I am adding a Vespa is to cut down on (but not get rid of) use of the two cars I own.  We also are hearing more and more about desires to find alternatives.  Why, today I read in the paper of a man right here in Greenville using fryer grease to power his Mercedes.

The economic forces are beginning to work.  The need for energy will drive ingenuity and creations of new energy sources and power plants.  It just may be that it isn’t happening as quickly as you would like.  We don't live in a zero sum world.  The needs of today may not be the same tomorrow.  It doesn't mean we stick our heads in the sand, but it also doesn't mean we run around crying like chicken little.

Getting the government involved will certainly not help matters!  Again, in theory it sounds like a reasonable idea, but experience shows that government intervention rarely helps solve problems.  Instead it just adds layers to the problems that must be solved.

Does this mean that things may have to get worse before they get better?  Sure.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  However, let’s not throw our oil barrels into the harbor too quickly.  Let’s not stand in sanctimonious indignation over consumers who found a product that served our needs -- whether it be oil or SUVs.  Let the market work and don’t rush it.

For some that point of necessity is sooner than for others.  Also, that point will come when some enterprising group or individual will see that alternatives are ready to go head-to-head with the fossils.  Their whispers can already be heard.  The innovators will start raising the volume.  The marketers will shout it from the rooftops.  The early adopters will set the conversation -- and more power to them (no pun intended).  Those of us just getting through each day will get the message.  It's the American way.  Not perfect, but it works.

So, in theory, I am with you – except the government intrusion part – but when it comes to everyday living, I say, “Take a chill pill.”  I’m not disappointed that the price of gasoline has not decreased demand overall (though it certainly has for me).  The market will balance it out.  I don’t wish high gas prices on my neighbors just so I can see the realization of a dream to live in a world fossil fuel free.

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