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Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 8/25/2008 [Archive]

America the Spoiled -- Opinion

America The Spoiled

The arrival of $4-a-gallon gas may have been the best thing to happen to America in a long time.

It doesn't matter which usual suspect we should thank the most -- Big Oil, speculators, the weak dollar, war in the Middle East, growing demand from China and India or our dear politicians in Washington.

They all did their part to send the world oil price beyond $140 a barrel.

And so they all deserve our eternal thanks for helping to wake up Americans to the fact that for the last 30 years politicians of both parties have been writing backward federal energy policies that have made us dangerously dependent on foreign oil.

Average U.S. pump prices are now down to about $3.70 a gallon and probably headed much lower. But the debut of $4 gas was a political game-changer -- and a blessed one.

Political pressure by an outraged majority has forced House Shrieker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats to reverse themselves and at least pretend to be in favor of lifting the congressional ban on offshore drilling. Even Barack Obama has quasi-converted.

Though $4 gas has brought us beneficial political results, it has caused many Americans to do some silly and irrational things.

Millions apparently shortened or canceled their family driving vacations. Some even have cut their commuting distances by switching jobs or moving from the suburbs to the city. Others have dumped their gas-guzzlers for pricey hybrids that will end up costing them more in the long run than they'll ever save on gas.

They're all nuts.

Yes, gas at $4 is tough on some family budgets and slams those who drive 50,000 miles a year. But if you do the math, $4 gas is hardly a hardship for most citizens of the world's richest country.

The average U.S. driver racks up about 1,000 miles a month and the average car gets about 22 miles per gallon. That means the average motorist uses about 540 gallons of gas a year -- 45 gallons a month or about 11 gallons a week.

At $4, Mary Motorist spends $2,160 a year on gasoline -- about $42 a week. At $3 a gallon, which now looks like the bargain of a lifetime, her annual tab would be $1,620 -- about $31 a week.

Owners of mega-SUVs that get around 15 miles per gallon obviously are hurt most by $4 gas. They burn about 66 gallons per 1,000 miles. Today that's $264 a month, $66 a week and $3,432 a year for 12,000 miles.

But is anyone who can afford a $40,000 Ford Expedition really going to suffer because gas jumps to $4 a gallon from $3? He is paying an extra $66 a month this summer for gas -- a lousy $17 a week. Does it make sense to skip this year's 1,000-mile family vacation for $66?

Getting in a tizzy or changing your lifestyle because of $4 gas is even sillier if you drive a more fuel-efficient car.

At $4, a Honda Civic that gets 35 mpg will use 28 gallons and cost about $112 a month to go 1,000 miles. That's $28 a week. At $3 a gallon, it'd cost $84 per month -- or $7 less a week.

Seriously.

In a country where the average worker makes nearly $20 an hour, does having to spend an extra $7 or $11 or even $17 a week on gasoline really constitute a hardship?

Was $4 gas a genuine national gas crisis?

Did it justify all that media hysteria -- or Barack Obama's dumb pander to give drivers a $1,000 "emergency" rebate check?

Only if you are a spoiled American.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at steigerwald@caglecartoons.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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