too much typing—since 2003


perhaps they've been huffing it? (an excursion into wonk world)

One of the clearest signs of rampant irrationality in the general public is the absurd panic over gas prices, exemplified by sites such as this one that track prices - presumably so people can drive twenty miles out of their way to "save" a penny per gallon. Now, if you're truly poor, rising gas prices do have a major effect on your life - but then, so do all rising prices, and it's not usually the poor who are getting vocally bent out of shape by gas prices. More often, it's upper-middle-class suburbanites who drive ridiculous vehicles like a Hummer H2, which costs at least $55,000 and gets about 10 miles per gallon.

Let's do the math, shall we? If you drive 12,000 miles per year, that's roughly 230 miles per week. If your car gets 33 mpg (which is what we get in our '98 Mazda Protege), you use about 7 gallons per week. So if gas prices rise 20 cents per gallon, you'd spend an extra $1.40 on gas each week. Not exactly breaking the bank. Even Mr. Insecure Manhood in his Pigwagon would spend only an extra $4.60 each week. If he can afford the payments on his luxury barge, he can afford that. Let's say he has to drive more miles per year - say, 20,000. And let's say gas prices go up even more - 50 cents per gallon. That's still less than $20 a week added to his gas expenses - but why should we weep over some guy in a half-million dollar house spending an extra $20? (And those of you who live in locales where a "half-million dollar house" looks like a shack in a Walker Evans photo...consider that around here, that's a mansion - and those folks are still complaining.)

Okay, if you're a cross-country trucker, that's gonna hurt - and I'm not arguing that higher gas prices have no effect on the economy. But higher anything prices affect the economy - but they don't inspire breathless outrage on the op-ed page or panicked letters to the editor in quite the same way as gas prices do.

If these people are really concerned about those prices, why are they still buying Hummers or other ridiculously bloated, low-mileage vehicles? (And what the hell is the purpose of the Cadillac Escalade EXT - a Cadillac pickup truck? What's their market? Guys with too much money who want to prove both that they've got money to burn (it's a Caddy) and that they're macho men (it's a pickup truck)? What do you haul in a Cadillac pickup truck? French poodles?) Even at that 20k-per-year/50-cent-increase level, someone driving a Toyota hybrid (50 mpg) is going to have to spend only about $4.00.

Instead of complaining, abandon your Hummer on a street corner (where it can house an entire homeless family) and buy a hybrid.

Related pet peeve: the reason I have a link to the federal government's Consumer Price Index inflation calculator (to your right) is that it bugs all hell out of me when media write things like "And back then, cars cost only $2,000." Yeah - and how much lower were people's average incomes? Even granting that the CPI isn't completely accurate, it's a hell of a lot more accurate than not adjusting dollars at all. For instance, a month or so back, the papers were all about how gas prices were at a record high average of $1.80 or so. And sure, in 1980 gas might've been "only" $1.20 per gallon. But what would that be in today's dollars? As this chart shows, average gas prices peaked in the early '80s at an approximate current equivalent of anywhere from $2.25 to $2.40 (on this page, dealing with California prices only). Kind of dims that nostalgic glow, doesn't it.