Poking the Bear

Yeah, even I’m not terribly thrilled with gas prices these days, previous commentary to the contrary. But the point that I was trying to express back in August 2005 was perhaps better expressed by Robert Reich earlier this week, in his post about how the wage gap is fueled by the gas gap:

Low-wage workers in rural areas are taking the biggest hit, but those who work in cities aren’t faring much better. It used to be that the very poor inhabited central cities and the working class lived in the inner suburbs, but now that the rich are moving back into town, the poor are being pushed outward. Retail, restaurant, hospital and hotel employees who work in upscale cities often must look 30 to 50 miles from their jobs for affordable housing. Their longer commutes mean they need to spend more on gas.

To quote myself from 2005:

But the next SUV driver I see in Madison complaining about gas prices on the local news … well, pardon me if I feel like punching ‘em in the face.

It helps to know that Madison, Alabama is the yuppie suburb of Huntsville, itself an economically prosperous part of an otherwise economically downtrodden state. People around here drive SUVs not for sports utility but for status uplift.

[And if I could go back ten years and read my Weblog now, I’d be stunned that I was agreeing with Reich, too.]

4 thoughts on “Poking the Bear”

  1. “People around here drive SUVs not for sports utility but for status uplift.”

    As someone who is waiting on his desired SUV to arrive on the lot, I take a bit of offense at this generalization. In our situation, we have a kid (with a ginormous carseat) along with dogs. A sedan or my old truck could not handle both simultaneously.

    We found when we were visiting family that having the extra seating available is quite nice too when you want to travel in community. Without an SUV or Van, we could not have four adults and a kid fit into the single vehicle… the carseat takes up too much space. So if we all drove smaller vehicles, we would now have to take two vehicles into town to go to dinner rather than all being able to ride together. Five people is not that many people, especially if you spend any amount of time around extended family.

    I also am not one to complain about gas prices as I voluntarily choose to drive an SUV. Yes, it is more expensive to operate. That added Utility provided by the SUV is worth it to me and my family.

    If you want to rail on people for purchasing a status uplift…. now that I think about it, don’t. There’s no point. People choose where they want to spend their money, be it on vehicles, their house, travel, or whatever. That’s their choice, their freedom.

  2. The only issue that I have with SUVs using more gasoline than, say, my little WRX [which isn’t exactly economical, given that it runs on 93 octane and isn’t really tuned for fuel economy] is that increased gas use by others drives up demand for what is a scarce resource, given the fact that world fossil fuel demand is far outstripping the rate of increase of supply at this point.

    And you do seem to be getting utility out of it, Rick. I’m surprised that you’re buying an SUV after selling your truck, given that I thought one of the reasons you got rid of it was fuel economy, but it turns out that my reading comprehension skills suck:

    For the time being, we’ll be a one-car family, but I expect that we’ll go shopping this summer for some nice gas-guzzler to tote all of us (adults, Phoebe, and dogs) around town.

    My bad!

  3. We deal with poor fuel economy in a different manner. We let one of our vehicles sit at home much of the time (which is what happened with the truck). A larger part of the truck’s demise was that a) Jessica hated to drive it and b) with a carseat in the back, there wasn’t much at all that could fit in the backseat, not even luggage.

    We are buying our SUV (actually one of the more fuel efficient ones, the GMC Acadia) during the summer for this exact reason… people freak out about the rising costs.

    Yes, fossil fuels are a limited resource and additional consumption drives up the price. Eventually it will hit a breaking point where the alternatives are actually cost effective to start using in large quantities.

    As for the supply, we (as a nation) are sitting on significant supplies of oil that we are unwilling to touch out of environmental concern. I grew up on the gulf coast and there are oil rigs out there. How do I know? They were a good place to go fishing. Otherwise, I’d have had no clue they were there because they were so far out (miles out past the barrier islands).

  4. I think we’re already starting to get there in terms of high prices driving up alternatives. Tar sands extraction starts making economic sense when you hit $70 a barrel—that’s one reason you saw the Saudis start saying that the price of oil was getting too high. 😉

    Like all economies, it’ll sort itself out, but folks aren’t going to enjoy it. I know I’m not.

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