Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ArmChair Obama™: How Do You Fix Gas Prices?!?

If you've got a car, chances are you do the same "grin and bear it" routine every time you go to fill your car up. Topping off my family's moderate sized crossover SUV runs me nearly $80. Before someone says "that's what you get for buying an SUV!", I'd like to ask you what the alternatives are. Public transpo isn't feasible if you have a family. It isn't cheap either, since going from one end of a given DC Metro Line to the other can easily run you $6 (per rider) now. Taking the bus would conceivably be cheaper, but that's sorta hustlin' backwards. You can't exactly drop kids off the school on a rickshaw either. Again, grin and bear it.

I wish there was some magic fix for our out of control fuel costs, but there isn't. As much as politricians prattle on and on about "Drill, Baby Drill", reality is the US makes such a small percentage of the world's supply of oil that we clearly can't solve this problem by just relocating a few polar bears in Anwar. We also use waaaay too much oil relative to other nations, and are #1 with a bullet when it comes to gas guzzling. China is #2 and has 3x our population, but for various reasons only uses half the number of barrels a day. Again, when you use waaaay more than you (can possibly ever hope to) make, something's gonna have to change.

President Obama has invested lots and lots of money and political capital into nudging Real Americans towards energy efficient vehicles. The GOP claps back at him at every turn, insisting that Americans don't need to be "forced" to drive a damn Prius. This in the rare political case study in which the two parties are both right and wrong.

Obama is correct in trying to advocate Americans changing their habits, and his Cash For Clunkers program, combined with pressuring Detroit to raise energy standards shows he's got a decent blueprint. But this starry optimism overlooks some basic tenets of American culture: we like driving big and fast cars. People love Suburbans and Camaros. It's what makes us who we are. This isn't Denmark. We aren't gonna start riding Huffys everywhere. That'll never happen. This is Amurricah! USA! USA! USA!

As for the GOP, they're correct that Americans love what they love and don't want to bother with charging a battery when simply going to Sunoco will suffice. Changing cultural attitudes isn't something that happens overnight, and it definitely won't happen at the insistence of a guy who labels himself a "Citizen Of The World" and has a Photoshopped birth certificate. But as usual, this perfectly reasonable argument gets lost in the typical GOP talking points of "indoctrination" and faux patriotism.

If you made it through that entire video without your head exploding, enjoy a Cyber CapriSun™. Drink's on me.

Besides, both arguments ignore a simple facet of capitalism: hybrid cars cost too damn much. Until the entry price point for hybrid vehicles becomes more palatable, people are simply gonna buy what makes the most sense to them. Why buy a puny Ford Fusion Hybrid for $30k when you can get a kickass, loaded Chrysler 300 for the same amount?

This is neither here nor there. Gas will still hover around $4 unless people simply quit driving (and thus stop filling up) as frequently. When demand drops, so do prices. It happened in late 2008, and it'll happen again.

Then again, that's just my view. Play Armchair Obama™ and tell me what you'd do.

Question: What did you think the President can do to lower gas prices?!? What would you do to remedy the situation?

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