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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, 2009-11-25}

Guess what’s not in the news? Gas prices. Gas does not cost $4 a gallon, and hasn’t for a while. Anybody remember when this was a big deal?

In 2006, before Republicans lost control of Congress, we were treated to Democratic proposals to eliminate price gouging (which, like pornography, they could never define). We also got rants against the evil oil companies making gajillions of unfair profits, bills to ban energy speculation, and all sorts of other silliness. Thankfully, none of it went anywhere. Gas prices are down because Congress did nothing.

If we’re really at the mercy of oil companies, why doesn’t gasoline cost $12? Or $20? Or whatever the oil companies want it to be? After all, can’t oil companies, as nasty greedy monopolies in cahoots with evil capitalist Republicans, charge whatever they want? Isn’t that what price “gouging” is? If we’re addicted to driving, as so many critics of American culture claim, doesn’t that mean our appetite for gasoline is limitless? The evidence says otherwise.

Gasoline and driving are subject to competition, supply and demand like everything else. When consumers receive signals of scarcity through prices, they change their habits. People drive less. Employees work from home. Businesses cut fuel costs. Some people buy Priuses. Others just plain do without. To believe drivers are junkies hanging around the crack house of Big Oil, you’d have to be on crack yourself.

You’d think from all the political posturing that $4-a-gallon gas is an inherent evil that requires immediate Congressional action. But there are plenty of pundits and know-it-alls who think that cheaper gas is also wrong. Many newspapers and Democratic think tanks have editorialized in favor of significantly higher gas taxes to fund alternative energy, taxes that would put a gallon of gas way over $4. Apparently higher gas prices are only bad if they’re the result of profit-making companies. If Democrats propose them, the end justifies the means.

The truth is that nobody really has much control over worldwide demand for oil. Once prices hit $4 a gallon again (as they surely will), we’ll again be treated to the usual silliness on Capitol Hill. When that happens, I’d like to make a personal request: Don’t write your Congressman. He can’t do much about it. Tell him to focus on more important things.

Instead, take some responsibility for your actions. Do the only thing that can really affect the price of gas. Ignore Congress, the know-it-alls, and the wonks. Take charge of your own decisions about what, when and where you drive. Gas may cost more than you like. Tough. You don’t have a right to it, so suck it up. Metaphorically, anyway.

100 years ago, oil in the ground was worthless. One hundred years from now, it will be so again. The only way to get to the 22nd century without total chaos will be to let consumers, businesses, and everybody else respond to prices by deciding how they will power their vehicles and how they will use them. Fairy tales about knights in Congressional armor slaying the wicked dragons of Big Oil using the magic spells of the think-tank wizard are fine for children. But once you get your driver’s license, you’re on the way to adulthood. You should leave childish things behind.