Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gas Bag

WTF, indeed!

Today I paid $2.99 for a gallon of gasoline.

And lately, that's been a bargain. Instead of filling my tank each time I run out, I instead take out a small signature loan. I once marveled that it took $30 to fill my tank, but that's just half a tank these days.

But you won't find me bitching and moaning about these prices, despite my not liking it. I feel that high gasoline prices are long overdue in this country. What galls me is that the prices aren't the result of government taxing, but due to the "free market." Which is probably the case.

I drive an SUV, so I have no room to point fingers at others who do and then complain that these prices are crimping their lifestyles. I don't drive much, as it is, mostly from home to work and back (7 miles) five days a week and otherwise mostly within a 15 mile radius of our home for shopping and other errands.

Actually, that $2.99 I paid today was cause for celebration, as I've seen prices in the past week as high as $3.19 for a gallon of regular, so I'm getting a helluva deal. But so are the rest of us in the United States. Don't believe me? Check out this Christian Science Monitor article and from CNN Money from a couple of years ago where the average cost of a gallon of gasoline in Amsterdam was $7. I bet you don't find any gas-guzzlers over there! The government taxes a huge amount of the cost of European gasoline to fund transportation projects, something governments are loathe to do so in the United States. The high taxes temper demand for fuel, lowering its market value. This could be done in the US--higher taxes on gasoline at the pump, resulting in similar prices for fuel, driving down demand, and providing needed $$ for infrastructure repairs, new road construction, and, just maybe, additional public transportation systems.

In the middle east and in several African and South American countries (namely Venezuela, home to madman Hugo Chavez), governments highly subsidize the oil industry, resulting in amazingly low prices for consumers.

It's no secret that the US is way behind the rest of the "civilized" world in mass transportation. Only on the east coast do transit systems begin to equal those found in Europe, largely because only on the east coast do population densities support such systems. Across the rest of the country, much of the settlement and population of areas occurred after the time of railroads and early automobiles, allowing for a more dispersed populace. Even in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, from where I blog, it's nearly 100 miles from one corner of the metropolitian area to the other. . .with such a large population, so dispersed, commuting to such a wide range of locations, it's really tough for mass transit to take hold. I don't have the answers, but I DO know it takes money, and private money isn't going to do it.

I'm sure that $2.99 I paid a gallon today--and gas prices in the US, adjusted for inflation, are at their highest rate EVER--will someday look as quaint as the 19.9 cents a gallon my dad paid for a gallon of Ethyl when I was a kid (and got the windshield cleaned, green stamps, and a Sinclair Dino drinking glass as well). I don't see prices abating anytime soon, if at all. There's more pressure for what oil the world does produce, and with India, Pakistan, and China modernizing and become bigger consumers for oil, there will be more customers and less oil in the future. I'm not naieve about our chances of weaning our oil dependency, either. Wind and solar nuclear and ethanol can only go so far--even if we didn't burn a gallon of oil in our vehicles, it would still be needed for a thousand other uses in an industrial society.

The world is undergoing a substantial change, as drastic as the change that accompanied the iron age or the industrial age. Wars will be fought in the future with our rivals for that black gold; who can blame the US government for attempting to become part of the middle eastern landscape ahead of our other oil-consuming rivals.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for that low-cost Iraqi oil to make our lives a living paradise in the United States. That's after the flow of oil pays for the war and reconstruction, of course.

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