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$8 Gas a Good Thing? I Don't Think So

There really are people out there praising high gas prices.

They naturally include those who believe that “cheap gas and a clean economy are mutually exclusive,” even though the air got continually better in the U.S. for decades while gas prices declined in real terms. If they’re truly mutually exclusive, how did that happen?

Then there are those who, like this gentleman, believe that higher gas prices can bring about a return to “true values that have meaning.” I get that, but convincing families to eat more meals together or to get more involved in charities should be independent of that.

One of the high-price praisers is in the business press. He’d like to see prices go twice as high.

He is Chris Pummer at MarketWatch.com, in “$8-a-Gallon Gas: Eight reasons higher prices will do us a world of good.”

That Pummer has authored such a piece would not surprise those familiar with his previous work.

In August 2002, Pummer complained that because California had no employer-paid family leave law, “I couldn’t even afford the ‘bereavement’ airfare to bury my mom, let alone taking time off to be with her when she died.” California passed such a law that became effective in 2004 — yet another explanation beyond those I mentioned in a previous column why the state is currently holding back the U.S. economy.

Also that month, Pummer expressed disgust that U.S. workers weren’t uniting in revolt:

U.S. workers see evil, hear evil, and speak evil, but we’ve become too gutless to utter even a modest demand to our employers.

… American business provides the worst employee benefits of major industrialized countries and those we do have are being continuously scaled back.

… Of course, we have only ourselves to blame for our plight. We turned away from the union bosses and found no one else to stand up for us.

MarketWatch really is a daily business publication, not an adjunct to the AFL-CIO.

Pummer’s pitch for $8-a-gallon gas is also permeated with hostility. He characterizes oil as “poison” and “the pus of the earth.” With classic urban-planner arrogance, he seethes with contempt for “antiseptic, strip-mall communities” and “cookie-cutter developments slapped up in the hinterlands.”

Here are my responses to Pummer’s reasons to “rejoice” at $8-a-gallon gas.

1. RIP for the internal combustion engine — Name something other than the computer chip that has led to more human freedom — of movement, of flexibility, and of enjoyment. You can’t. If a replacement arrives, fine, but that’s not what environmentalists really want. “For the cause,” they want us to limit our movement, have less flexibility, and, inevitably, to enjoy life less. No thanks.

2. Economic stimulus — Pummer believes that $8 gas would “trigger all manner of investment sure to lead to groundbreaking advances.” Innovation is great, but it’s really irritating that he would be so cavalier about what $4-a-gallon gas has already caused. For example, it surely contributed to GM’s Tuesday announcement that it would close four plants (which, incidentally, employ a lot of union members).

3, 4, and 8. Wither the Middle East’s clout; deflate oil potentates; ease global tensions — The only reason those folks have their clout is that we haven’t allowed enough exploration and drilling in the U.S. On Tuesday, Bloomberg had a story that referred to “Saudi-sized reserves” in the Dakota oil fields. Do you mind if we retrieve it, Chris?

5. Mass transit development — Americans have been using mass transit in record numbers. No, I’m not talking about bus and rail lines. I’m talking about the greatest mass transit system ever conceived by man — the system of roads, expressways, and highways. Remember what I said about freedom of movement, flexibility, and enjoyment? The highway system has provided more of each than any other mass transit system. Yes, there are congestion problems, but I have solutions: Build roads to accommodate the traffic and charge reasonable tolls during peak hours.

6. An antidote to sprawl: Sure, the automobile has enabled sprawl, but I maintain that three things have accelerated sprawl: high crime, exorbitant taxes, and lousy schools. To the criticism that affordable gas prices have helped families who care to escape these menaces, I say, “Thank God.”

7. Restoration of financial discipline: Pummer believes that vehicle loans have contributed to our overburdened debt situation. But no one twisted anyone’s arm to buy things they couldn’t afford. Also, allow me to contend that many families have taken on debt willingly in the name of accomplishing important goals whose achievement requires freedom of movement and flexibility, ultimately maximizing enjoyment and accomplishment for family members. Exactly what is wrong with that?

Affordable fuel has led to a U.S. standard of living that is the envy of the world — one that the world, other than its control freaks, wants to emulate. While busy “rejoicing” over expensive fuel, Pummer overlooks the fact that those who can least afford it are the ones who are hit the hardest. That’s quite an oversight for a guy who has urged a workers’ revolt.

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