High Gasoline Prices—The European View

Tuesday, May 02, 2006
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.


terrye said...

I think the $100 rebate is kind of silly.

But I think the prices went up too fast for people to adjust to it without real hardship for some people.

I know that there is an increase in demand from India and China and I know that there are not enough refineries and we have too many grades, etc.

But there is not a shortage, in fact oil stocks are at very nearly the same place they were when the price was half what it is now.

So I think fear is driving the futures market and putting even more stress on prices and that is killing the Bushies. I think a great deal of the low numbers are about this.

People feel they are being robbed. Right or wrong that is the perception. If it had taken ten years to get here instead of three, they might have handled it better.

Skookumchuk said...

It would be interesting by the way to see how we would respond in a large disaster, where gas could go to, say, $4.50 per gallon or more.

Possibly the closest analogue to the US is Australia, where drivers very generally want the same things in cars, only on a smaller scale, also drive long distances but where state government often gives them lots of info about their consumer choices. So it is easy to do meaningful things.

OK, so it was a transparent excuse to show pictures of some new cars I kinda like and can't have.

I'll have to make do with one of these. What was the question, again?

Skookumchuk said...

Isn't the Holden Crewman just the most beautiful thing you ever saw? Hey, guy built it in his garage!

OK, I'll stop.

David Thomson said...

Do you want to blame someone for high gas prices? If that’s indeed the case---you should downright despise the leaders of the Democratic Party. They have almost single handily stopped the development of nuclear power in this country. Much of our oil needs has nothing to do with our cars. No, instead it has to do with our buildings and manufacturing plants. It is my guess that our fuel bills should be at least half of what they are today.

Skookumchuk said...


Don't know about halving gasoline prices. But our neglect of coal liquefaction, which becomes attractive when the long term price of crude is above $35/bbl and our inability to develop oil shales and tars, is very shortsighted. And nuclear power, certainly. And offshore drilling. And wind farms off the coast.

It comes down to societal values and how comfortable we are with industry around us. I once looked at a condo with a view of a shipyard. The realtor was apologetic about it. And here I wanted to buy the place in part because of the view of the shipyard.

terrye said...


I heard today that coal is going up so fast experts are saying electric bills might double by next year.

I am not blaming anyone, I just think that sometimes markets do funny things. And that biggest profit in history of the world story about Exxon made people more suspicious. Drudge gave it the alarm and flashers for a reason.

truepeers said...

Evidence of assertiveness among Canadians...

That's why we invented hockey...

Skookumchuk said...

Coal is going up in part because the two rail suppliers in Wyoming have had all kinds of physical difficulties due to lack of capacity. And China, too.

Skookumchuk said...


Evidence of assertiveness among Canadians...

Actually, Cascadia plus BC and Alberta could do rather well by themselves, don't you think?

The Simon Fraser pipe band could compose and perform the new national anthem, we would use the designs of the late Bill Reid on the coins, and the Seahawks could be the national football team.

Speaking of Balkanization and all that stuff...