dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Primed at the Pump

April 25th, 2006 by dk

Gasoline prices have never been higher. Never mind the inflation-adjusted true cost, or its percentage of our gross national product. These more favorable statistics are not in the mind of a motorist idling at a stop light. Indeed, waiting for a red light is probably the most idle social moment in many people’s lives. For a nation that has given up small talk for television, what do two people chat about in those 45 seconds with nothing to do and nowhere to go? Those posted prices function as cue cards for a nation of people who have forgotten their lines.

Gasoline prices are unique. It’s not a statistic; it’s a fact. We don’t need news reports to tell us what it’s doing; we know.

It’s not like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Like the children from Lake Wobegone, we all believe ourselves to be above average. The unemployment rate is equally abstract. Nobody goes from being 5.9 percent unemployed to 5.6 percent unemployed. If you’re unemployed, you’re 100 percent unemployed, and it’s cold comfort to be told there are now point-three-percent fewer of you.

Milk prices have at times risen faster than gas prices, but the cost of milk is masked by all the other items in our grocery basket. We don’t stop for gas until our needle reaches a certain point, and then we fill the tank. So we’re buying roughly the same quantity over and over again. There’s nothing to disguise the rising price. We watch the dollars roll away as the pump meter spins like a slot machine. Gasoline prices are literal, direct, and visceral.

The price of a tank of gasoline sticks in our craw, unlike the cost of anything else. There’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t go home and cook up our own gas. We can’t buy it from a friend slightly used. We can’t get a better price on the Internet. We can change our driving habits or we can change the vehicle we drive, but those are big changes. If we do make changes, it’s not until we’ve gotten plenty angry first.

If high prices put us in a foul mood, even if we spend more on gas, we might spend less on camp for the kids, or golf this weekend, or Happy Meals at the next stop light. That slows the economy, which slows everything else. So gas prices are a big deal. Bigger than they should be perhaps. But central to the public’s psyche nonetheless. They merit our attention.

Any change is better than no change, so let’s start with what’s simple. Can we dispense with the silly tenth-of-a-penny pricing? There is no other consumer product niggled in this way. Maybe it made sense when the price of a gallon was about two bits. Now that it’s beyond ten times that, dispense with the tenths.

Government forbids gasoline dealers from posting a pretax price, bundling in federal, state, county and city taxes into the pump price. The average tax is 42 cents for every gallon. That money doesn’t pay for oil or refinement or delivery or free windshield washing. That money goes to government, sometimes for roads and bridges, but sometimes not. A pretax price would reveal that government makes money when you drive, so it has reasons to keep you from kicking the habit. Nothing wrong with vice taxes, but hiding it amounts to governmental codependency.

It’s now documented that people in cars are like goldfish in a tank. The bigger the tank, the bigger the fish. Likewise, big people like big cars. It’s also now well documented by the Big Book of Obvious Conclusions that most big people need more exercise than the wee people who veer toward smaller cars. So why not restripe our parking lots, again giving preference to compact cars? If big cars have to park a few steps farther from the store, their drivers will get some of the exercise they need. If they prefer to skip the exercise, they can buy a smaller car next time.

Eliminate tenths of pennies, post pretax prices, and restripe the parking lots. Will any of this reduce our dependance on oil in general, or foreign oil in particular? No, but if it means those 45-second conversations at stop lights are more informed and productive, then we’ll have accomplished something worthwhile.

Tags: 2 Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Miller May 8, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    I loved it… I am passing it along to all of those with whom I rarely have enough to say, while sitting at a stop light.

    Of course, you did forget to mention that that 45 seconds is the only SAFE time when we can talk on our cell phones– about the gas prices.

  • 2 tom bowerman May 22, 2006 at 8:09 am

    Don says: “The price of a tank of gasoline sticks in our craw, unlike the cost of anything else. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

    Although he goes on to comment on some things we can do, it’s all pretty fluffy. In 2000, I was reading the Bruntland Commission definition of “sustainability”, and although I realized I couldn’t obtain that level of deconsumption in my current life, I decided to try to reduce my gasoline consumption by 75%. That’s a big reduction, but the means to do it was simple. I purchased a Geo Metro (50 mpg) to replace my Suburu (25 mpg) and determaned to drive half as much by working much more at home instead of commuting downtown. 50% of 50% = 25% of prior consumption. Granted, not everyone can duplicate this, but there actually are a lot of significant changes we can make in our lives, which not only move us closer to being responsible stewards of the Earth. We do need to make BIG changes, and it helps to realize that these can lead to happier, less stressful lives. It’s the BIG changes WE CAN MAKE we need to talk about.