I don’t mind MoveOn.org. In fact, you can generally count me in the MoveOn set. This latest pitch from the inbox is a bit much though and offers me a good opportunity to point out something inherently wrong with the “high gas price” political maneuvering.

MoveOn says:

Americans have spoken?in fact, we’ve yelled?that we need relief from high gas prices and a smart energy policy. But in the dead of the night, Congress weakened the bill that would make gas price gouging a federal crime.1 Now it’s virtually unenforceable.

They want us to all chip in $3.29 (average price of a gallon of gas) to run a hard hitting ad on the subject.

The main thing wrong with this is that higher gas prices are GOOD. If you have the goal of getting consumers to change their usage habits and drive less as well as drive more fuel efficient cars. It’s a no-brainer for consumers really. Absent whether or not you believe our cars are contributing to the detriment of the planet via global warming or other harms, driving more fuel efficient autos saves you money.

While it is a shame that our good and brave soldiers die everyday attempting to secure oil flows from regions who won the geologic lottery, it is not a crime to raise prices during periods of higher demand. It’s simple economics. Demand low, prices drop to provide an incentive to buy. Demand high, prices increase because the threshold raises for what consumers are likely to pay in competition for the same resources. The gas demand now is up due to summer vacation driving and American consumers seem more than willing to dish out the cash for the privilege of taking little Johhnie and Sarah across the country in their Suburbans. Sure, they’ll bitch – but they’ll go right on pumping and cursing all the while. “Damned oil companies…ca-chung…ca-chung…got us in a war to protect their oil interests…ca-chung…ca-chung…record fucking profits them greedy pigs…ca-chung…ca-chung. Don’t forget to fill up the boat!

So if your real goal is to change consumer habits, you should lobby for gas prices to go towards $8/gal. Asking me for $3.29 to run some ad about price gouging is just political gamesmanship. MoveOn shouldn’t be asking for clean, affordable fuel. They should be asking us all to make better decisions about energy use as individuals regardless of the price. That’s the real ticket.

 
  • What I will add, though, is that right before we invaded Iraq I waited in a line of 35 cars for over an hour to get gas (happened to be on E). It was around $5/gal if I remember right. THAT is gouging.

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  • In the long run, high gas prices are good. Eventually, we’ll modify our society and wean ourselves off the stuff. (It really is terrible for you.) This is unpopular, but the right course of action.

    In the short run, high gas prices are bad. It makes it harder for working folk to make ends meet. From that perspective, supporting gas price relieve makes sense, as an act of populist politics. But it is, in the long run, the wrong thing to do. It forestalls the inevitable in exchange for popular support now.

    You need to win elections to set policy, but that doesn’t mean you should support bad policy. Artificially lowering gas prices is bad policy.

    All that said, it is rather curious that while the cost of crude is dropping, the costs of gas is not. This chart is from Ontario, but the general trends should compare well to our condition. Note that profit for the oil companies is contained in the “refinement and wholesale” slice.

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