I admit, I’m reluctant to call it a free market when one of the parties is a Cartel. By definition a Cartel is a small organization of suppliers whose reason for existence is to manipulate prices by controlling the supply. I am also reluctant to call the market free when government policies subsidize oil companies and the manufacture of SUV’s–not to mention the fact that government policies subsidize highways rather than mass transit.
But I will admit, no one is taking a gun, putting it to my head, and forcing me to buy gasoline, so there is some freedom for the law of supply and demand to operate.
And, it’s working. We as a nation are driving less. Highway deaths are down. Presumably we are also walking more, or engaging in conversation with our neighbors and families; so it all has to be good. The market has forced us to do some things we needed to do anyway. And, miracle of miracles–the price at the pump is going down (more here).
So why are the champions of free markets whining? Why are they calling on the government to do something? Why aren’t they saying, “Trust the invisible hand of the market–it will take us where we need to be”?
Beside expensive gasoline, there is another problem with our dependence on automobiles. Our infrastructure is crumbling. The past week saw the anniversary of the bridge collapse in Minnesota. It turns out that on average, our bridges are built to last 50 years–and they are about 43-47 years old. Yikes!
It is going to take about 180 billion dollars to fix all those bridges, according to CBS. One problem is that since we are starting to use less gasoline, there is less gas-tax money available for highway and bridge projects. So, someone is going to have to find a way to pay for new bridges.
A higher gas tax might give us the additional shock needed to further reduce our consumption. The long-term result would be that the price of oil would drop further and the tax would be absorbed. But few politicians have the political will to support any kind of new tax.
Or maybe we should follow the “free market” idea all the way. The nation’s bridges could be privatized and sold to the highest bidder, who could then recoup their investment in the form of tolls.
The alternative is to admit that the free market can’t do everything; there is a place for some public projects. But then, if we admit transportation is a public need, maybe we could rethink the kind of public transportation we subsidize.
Meanwhile, some Christians are calling on God to intervene. They are starting a pray at the pumps movement. I guess that’s not wrong, since we are taught to “cast all our cares on him.” Since most of us have to fill up the tank to get to work and earn our daily bread–we could even add an addendum to the Lord’s prayer,
“Give us this day our daily bread, and the gasoline wherewith to drive to the place of earning thereof.”
Or maybe we should pray for the discipline to shake off our dependence on cars.