Saturday, May 13, 2006

Another "Well, Duh!" Moment

The continuing high gasoline prices are beginning to take a toll on the 'average' American's budget, and the NY Times has an article which explores just what that toll involves.

The increase in gas prices comes at a time when many Americans of modest means are already finding themselves squeezed by increased insurance costs, wages that have not kept pace with inflation, and the rising pressure of adjustable rate mortgages. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 63 percent of respondents had cut back on their driving because of the gas price increase, and 56 percent had cut back on other household spending. Nearly half said they expected to change their summer vacation plans as a result.

For Ms. Lopez, driving to and from work used to cost $30 a week; now it costs $80. With an annual income of $32,000, that means nearly 13 percent of her income goes for gas, instead of about 5 percent, as in the past.

Many workers with long commutes are trying to come up with alternatives. Dean Mitchell, 37, who works with Ms. Cordovez at the Doubletree, got rid of his car, but he lives close enough to walk to work and otherwise takes the bus now. "I want to get an alternative-fuel car," he said. "I'm not interested in paying for gas anymore."

"I don't want to fund the Arabs," he added. "I want to spend my money on ethanol."
[Emphasis added]

The article lists the various ways these Americans are trying to offset the high gas expenditures: everything from cutting out trips to the movies to buying lesser cuts of meat are described. It seems to me that this is just the first round of adjustments that Americans are going to have to make, especially since no one believes that the price of a gallon of gasoline is ever going to decline to pre-2004 levels. Americans are going to have to cut much deeper than dispensing with the weekly manicure once the price of fuel starts having an impact on other consumer needs such as food and clothing.

Switching to public transportation instead of driving is an option, but it also has some drawbacks. Commute times for those with access to trains, subways, and busses will double and treble until the 40-hour work week becomes a 50- or even 60-hour work week. And those modes of transportation have to be available and accessible. Are local MTAs even capable of extending service and adding units to handle the increase? Will local and state governments have the funds to provide the extensions?

The disheartening thing about the article is the comment made by Mr. Mitchell, that he doesn't want to "fund the Arabs." It implies that somehow the current gas prices are their fault, not the fault of Americans who have had a long love-affair with the automobile, preferrably the huge gas guzzlers, and who have continued to elect public officials who haven't had the foresight or the spine to confront the issue via increased mileage standards and the funding of research into and the development of alternative energy sources.

Until the American public wakes up to the new reality and insists that something be done both in the short term and the long term, the nation will have to go through a lot of hurt.

It's time.


Anonymous Uncle Smokes said...

No one talks about petrochemicals either, and the mind-bending array of products made from them.

Then again, I think that explains why we're suddenly seeing ads for American Chemistry.

5:55 AM  
Blogger cabearie said...

uncle smokes, how right you are!

Big Ag is going to feel the pinch as well.

6:36 AM  

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