It’s always instructive when people diverge from the national stereotypes that we have, in our tidy minds, assigned to them. Evidence of assertiveness among Canadians, organisation among Italians or self-deprecation among Frenchmen tells us something that we have overlooked about native characteristics and forces us to revisit our assumptions.
The current American frenzy over oil prices is the latest fine example. ...
In America, the minute gasoline prices start to climb, the entire nation is transformed into a horde of gibbering, whining, state-dependent automatons, desperately pleading that Somebody Somewhere Must Do Something.
There are good reasons why the usual stereotype doesn’t fit petro-reality. Inhabiting a bigger, less densely populated country, Americans drive a lot more and feel the pain of higher prices more keenly. Petrol taxes are already a much higher proportion of the pump price in Europe, so there’s a sense governments there are already far enough bought into this particular project.
What’s more, in America, they still favour the old-time religion, the sort proselytised by pastors. In secular Europe, the new religion is climate change and its high priests are scientists and think-tankers. They warn with Old Testament fervour that the world needs to repent. In this, self-flagellation occasioned by higher petrol prices is not only tolerable, but good for the soul.
So, forced to drive long distances and unhindered by secular religious imperatives, Americans turn to their political leaders in times like this and insist that they do something really unwise when the oil price starts to pinch. The politicians never disappoint.
Democrats have responded to the latest surge at the pump by urging an investigation into “gouging” by oil companies. Excess profits by oil companies won’t be tolerated, it is said. I haven’t met anyone who actually thinks that squeezing oil companies will make a ha’porth of difference to the petrol price, but pinning it on them at least salves wounded wallets and is a useful way to indict the Bush Administration by association.
Republicans, demonstrating once again how urgently they want to reclaim the title of the Stupid Party back from the Democrats, have come up with something even better. They want to offer every American a $100 tax rebate. Just like that. One hundred dollars to spend how they please and the Treasury will just have to deal with it.
The view of the Times of London.