None of us are happy about paying substantially more for gas than we?re used to. But let?s step back for a moment and consider what could come of this: the good, the bad and the stupid.
Higher fuel prices encourage things like carpooling and alternative transportation. If the current price trend continues, I imagine some folks will be more likely to walk the quarter-mile to the 7-Eleven than to drive. A few might even be so inclined as to walk or bike to work, depending on how far away they live. Ultimately, this could lead to a reduction of the American waistline, along with a reversal of the trend of suburban sprawl as people choose to live closer to their places of work and recreation.
Fewer emissions, less traffic, more close-knit communities and less flabby people are some definite benefits we could realize from higher gas prices. Unfortunately, most of us are used to the idea of living in the suburbs, working in the city and driving everywhere. People being the creatures of habit that they are, it may be a few years before we start to see these changes take place on a large scale.
There is the issue of the transportation of goods to consider. Higher fuel prices ultimately get passed on to the consumer, meaning everything we buy will cost more, adding to our already strained pocketbooks that are hurting because we spent over $35 to put gas in a Honda Accord (ouch!). The smart thing to do would be to shift a large portion of our transported goods from truck to rail. Anyone who?s taken college physics (and I sincerely hope that at an engineering school everyone has, regardless of major) can tell you that a single train will use less fuel than dozens of trucks hauling the same cargo.
Sadly, the likelihood of that shift doesn?t seem to be coming any time soon, especially since the trucking industry is so heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Well, to be fair, the trucks themselves are not ? at least not much ? but the roads are paid for by virtually everybody. Railroad companies, on the other hand, have traditionally had to bear most of the expense of maintaining their rights-of-way, leaving them at a disadvantage to the cars and trucks. It should strike no one as coincidental that passenger rail service in the United States declined with the construction of the interstate highways. Interestingly enough, after the government yanked all profitability of passenger rail out from underneath the railroad companies, it then set up a poor substitute ? Amtrak ? that continues to exist only because taxpayers are forced to prop it up.
That brings me to the stupidity that is arising from high gas prices. Despite the burden it places on everybody, some are calling for more taxes on gasoline. Recently, our own Governor Kaine, along with some scumbag Republicans (is that redundant?) in the Virginia Senate, felt the urge to raise Virginia?s fuel tax. And what did they want to do with it? Build more roads. So we can have more cars and trucks, more traffic and suck up even more expensive gas.
Then there are the whiners who want a "windfall tax" on big oil companies. Now don?t get me wrong. I have no more love for large corporations than I do for any other bureaucracy, but let?s think about this in terms of sheer economics. Oil companies exist for one reason: to make a profit. That?s usually the reason that any business exists. As such, the owners of said companies like to maintain the same profit as a percentage of the cost of doing business. Put simply, if it costs more to extract petroleum from the earth, then these companies are going to charge you more for it. Taxes are just another cost of doing business, and if an oil company?s taxes go up, guess where they?re going to make up for that.
If you said, "By raising prices," congratulations! You just might be qualified to hold a real job.
If you said, "By cutting into their profits," well, you may be stuck working at the New Age clothing store for a while.
Point of all this being that gasoline is not going to get any cheaper, and the sooner we all accept that, the sooner we can realize the good with a minimum of the bad. Maybe we can avoid the stupid, too.