Gas prices, poverty and how the Europeans get it right

Dear Editor,

First, I am no expert in economics or energy policy, so I will accept correction with at least a minimal level of grace.

Second, I partly agree with Josh that any contingency that forces Americans to re-think their abusive energy consumption habits is good.

But I do want to voice a couple of reservations about Josh’s celebratory embrace of rising gasoline prices. One, rising gasoline prices will cause little or no concern for the wealthiest Americans and the most egregious over-users of petroleum. On the contrary, they will further burden state and local budgets that are already too strapped to help the people most in need in America. In many ways, the people most affected by high gas prices will likely be the working poor–those who rely on their cars (and gasoline) to get to subsistence-level jobs. For these people, an inadequate and over-priced mass transportation system like SEPTA may not be a viable option (either because it cannot easily get them where they need to go, or because it is more expensive than operating a vehicle, or both). So they are left without an alternative.

I also believe that high gas prices experienced by Western Europeans are at least partly created by steep national taxes designed to curb energy consumption and fund needed social services (including environmental reclamation and protection).

In America, conversely, high gas prices are largely due to rising world oil value and the greed of oil and gas companies who disproportionately hike prices. The US media then gives Americans more than enough reasons for the high prices (who can feel good about complaining of high gas prices when the news media repeatedly tell us that prices are high because of the Katrina disaster or because of deadly unrest in the Persian Gulf?).

Ultimately, gas and oil companies know that their friends in the Bush/Cheney administration will not protest what is, in essence, price gouging on the most massive scale imaginable.

In Europe, therefore, the neediest people (and trees, presumably) benefit from the high gas costs, while in the US, the only people who are benefiting more as gasoline becomes more expensive are the companies selling it.

Surely, we need any inspiration possible to cause us to seek cleaner and less costly energy alternatives, but I think it would be a mistake to look too gratefully at the current gas prices without asking tough questions about why they are high and who benefits most.

Kevin Maness

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