Tuesday, June 10, 2008

There, he said it!

For his most recent column, Wall Street Journal auto columnist Joe White talked to Mike Jackson, who runs the largest car dealer network in the country, AutoNation. The column, and Mr. Jackson, articulate so beautifully what the American people don't seem to get, and what politicians cynically ignore. We need high gas prices. This country's oil dependency is not just an environmental risk, but a security risk as well, which means that the sooner we get to the point where we can supply our own fuel, the better off we'll be as a nation. 

The fact is, our lifestyles will need to change unless technology leaps forward faster than it has been. We've been hearing about all-electric vehicles and fuel-cells for decades now, but that technology is not yet cost-effective for the job we as a country would like it to do. This president's administration has been all about the idea that Americans should not have to sacrifice their way of life for the sake of national security, unless it involves civil rights, in which case all bets are off. Anything that might put a check on our collective spending habit was completely off the table. 

To be perfectly honest, I'm not the poster-child for reduced fuel consumption. My car, while small, gets around 20 mpg, not much better than your average SUV. I waste gas taking it the track, offsetting some of the benefit of working from home. But these are active choices I've made, and they're for a particular reason. I love driving my car, and the happiness I get out of it is a pretty reasonable return for the opportunity cost of other things in my life that I can't afford as a result, if less arguably for the societal cost that my behavior brings as well. If gas prices rose even higher, I might be forced to change my habits accordingly, which may offer me less car-based happiness, but would shift more of the real external costs of my actions to my pocket.

Many other Americans will have to sacrifice things in their lives, too. It'll certainly be more painful for them, especially if they sank more than they could really afford into getting that cool SUV to go grocery shopping with. But now is the time when we must accept the fruits of our collective decisions, and learn from them. Let's not talk about things like gas tax holidays that will lower prices by 18 cents for a few months while crippling our already-overworked infrastructure. Let's applaud the fact that these trends in fuel prices have created a new mentality on the part of both companies and customers that says we're ready to see the future. 

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