You’re running on fumes.
You pull into a station on your way home from work.
It’s near the end of the week. Paycheck’s almost spent before the weekend’s underway.
Three seventy a gallon tonight. Fill up’s going to cost what? Around fifty-five bucks? What are you going to do?
Put it on the card, hope you got enough to cover it when the bill comes?
There goes your night out at the movies. That or you do a smaller shop at the grocery store, put off paying the phone bill again.
I got it!
Sell the car right now. Trade it in on a hybrid. Walk away from the mortgage. Move to a progressive urban area where there’s reliable mass transit. Find a house or an apartment, someplace with a small carbon footprint, on a high speed rail line. And maybe it’s time to start that new career, go back to school, get a degree in bio-engineering, find a green job close to home, buy a new bike, learn to love to walk everywhere again, cut up that Exxon card at last!
Or, you know, fill the tank halfway and have tuna casserole again tonight.
Really, Treehugger? You want to go there?
A good liberal ought to think twice---three times---before writing something like this:
I've written before about how we really should be paying much more at the pump, for a number of reasons. But that certainly doesn't seem to be the conventional wisdom these days -- Sarah Palin is outraged that gas prices are pushing $4 a gallon, and she's blaming Obama. Others are calling for the president to tap into our emergency oil reserves, because hitting $4 a gallon would surely derail our economy. But everyone really needs to chill the $#@% out -- $4 a gallon is really, really cheap. Like, the cheapest in the world, among industrialized nations.
Ok, the direction of a post depends on your audience, and apparently Brian Merchant assumes his audience doesn’t include people trying to raise a family on less than 45 grand a year.
But the fact is the price of gas isn’t cheap. It isn’t expensive either. It’s relative.
It’s relative to how much you can afford to spend on filling up your tank.
Merchant treats it as relative to what people pay in Germany and Australia and Canada and the Netherlands.
Let’s leave Australia and Canada out of it for a minute.
Right Wingers think they’ve thoroughly refuted a progressive argument for a societal or economic good that Europeans enjoy and we don’t just by saying, “We’re not Europe.”
That’s plain demagoguery. Harshing on Europe has been a staple of American self-congratulatory complacency since the Revolution. But we aren’t Europe!
Europe is a little place.
If your average European had to drive as far as most Americans have to drive to pick up a gallon of milk they’d be in another country.
All right. Exaggeration for emphasis.
Lichtenstein can fit in my backyard.
We have a lot more livable space here. And we’ve arranged to occupy our livable space in a very different way than the Europeans have theirs---and the Australians and the Canadians too, for that matter.
You think a drive across Nebraska is lonely?
Try driving across Manitoba.
We’ve put a lot more distance between ourselves and other people, between us and our neighbors, between us and even our closest relatives, between us and the people we work for and work with, between us and people we need to buy goods and services from. We were able to do that, spread out, give ourselves all this elbow room, give ourselves all this privacy, and all this freedom, because cars were cheap to own and run.
This has turned out not to be such a good thing, mainly because it has encouraged what we flatter ourselves is self-reliance but in practice turns out to be indifference to the needs and concerns of people who live out of our immediate sight.
But it’s also turned out not to be such a good thing because internal combustion engines have turned out not to be the boons they were invented to be and that’s mainly due to the rising cost of gas.
And heating oil.
Those big houses we’ve built because we had the room to build them are expensive to heat and cool, light and power.
Cars also kill a lot of people and foul the air, killing more people that way.
But put affordable electric cars in every garage (and free-range chickens in every pot), go solar, harness the wind, tap into the geo-thermal, and guess what?
The way most Americans live now suddenly starts looking again like the ideal and idyll our grandparents thought it was.
Maybe you think that should change.
I think the suburban way of life most Americans have adopted makes us miserable. It’s lonely, frustrating, full of headaches we don’t need, problems that don’t satisfy us to solve because the problem---like a dead patch in the lawn or driveway that needs repaving---are meaningless. Plus I like to drive but all those SUVs going to and from the mall have crowded the roads with morons and idiots and I have to go a long way through heavy traffic to find open highway.
I’m part of the problem.
It should change, but it’s not going to change overnight.
Or over a decade.
It took us close to half a century to arrange it. We’ve lived with it and in it fifty-odd years more. Old habits die hard even if there are reasonable---and affordable---alternatives already in place, which at the moment there aren’t.
We could and should raise taxes on gas and as Merchant urges use the money to repair and replace our crumbling infrastructure. Be we can’t bring ourselves to do it because gas taxes are regressive, so good liberals resist them, while conservatives think they’re not regressive enough. If they find a way to make sure that no rich people have to pay them, Republicans will be all for them.
Unless they suspect, as they would have good reason to, that liberals are supporting raising gasoline taxes in order to discourage people from using gasoline.
Besides its taking money out of the wallets of oil company executives, if raising taxes on gasoline encourages people to get out of their cars by moving out of the suburbs into cities or other suburbs that are more like cities where they will be dependent on public services provided by progressive governments, like trains, Republicans will lose votes.
The price of gas is relative, even in Europe. Europeans can afford to pay five and seven dollars for a gallon of gas because they don’t have to buy as much gas, they have trains, they live a lot closer to each other, and they don’t have to pay for or pay a lot for things like medical care and college educations and broadband.
Raise gasoline taxes and Americans might start expecting those taxes to pay for other things besides filling pot holes and shoring up bridges.
We might forget we’re not like the Europeans.
Now, again like me, you may think things need to change. But you’re not going to persuade people who are counting the bills in their wallet before deciding how much gas to pump that they should be more like Europeans and be glad to pay more for gas by telling them to stop whining about how much gas is costing them at the moment.
It’s pretty much a rule of thumb on our side of the bandwidth that if Sarah Palin says it, it’s a lie.
But that’s not right.
It’s more the case that if she says it, half of it or at least some not insignificant percentage of it is true.
The effectiveness of Right Wing demagoguery is due to Right Wing demagogues being very good at identifying a problem. People listening nod along and say to each other, That’s true, because it is.
The perniciousness lies in who and what they then blame for the problem. Liberals, unions, teachers, immigrants, the poor, THEM!
And in their proposed solutions. Solution, singular. It’s always the same solution. Let the Rich handle it, they know best.
Palin is right. The price of gas is too damn high, for most people.
But she won’t say why it’s too damn high.
Because most people don’t have enough money because they aren’t paid enough.
This is a result of our having left it up to the rich to handle everything, and, here’s a shocker. The rich have handled it in ways that benefit them.
Wages haven’t stagnated. They’ve been deliberately and ruthlessly repressed. Good paying jobs have been shipped overseas. Whole industries have been deliberately dismantled. “Productivity” has been an excuse to lay off armies of workers. There aren’t enough good jobs to go around. People feel lucky to have any job and they get up every day and go to bed every night worried that the job they are lucky enough to have will be snatched away from them in a blink.
So they take what they can get, keep their heads down and their mouths shut, and try to shrug it off when another year goes by with the bills piling up and the same amount of money coming in.
The problem isn’t the price of gas at the moment. That’s a Republican demagogic distraction. The problem is that the price of gas is relative.
If people had better jobs, if there were more jobs, if American workers were paid what they should be paid and not as little as the corporate elites think they can get away with paying them, gas could be priced at five and seven dollars a gallon and it would be cheap.
But at the moment---at the moment!---this is how to look at the price of gas.
Over the last month or so the price of gas has risen almost a dollar a gallon and for a lot of Americans that means that over the last month they’ve paid a hundred dollars or so more to get themselves to and from work, to and from the grocery store, to and from their kids’ concerts and games and lessons.
And over the last month, how many Americans do you think got a hundred dollar raise?
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