Thursday, August 25, 2005
CNN/Money has a fluff piece on gas prices and their effects. What caught my eye was the fact that people are not necessarily changing their vehicles, they are changing their lives instead. That is disastrous for an economy. One of the big indicators at the health of an economy, especially America's, is how retailers are doing. As the behemoth WalMart absorbs every shop in America, the fact that it is not doing well is very bad news. WalMart has sort of become what GM was in the 1950s, THE company to look at in America for better or for worse.
One of the reasons I moved to Europe was for high gas prices. I figured that in Europe where distances are shorter, populations are denser, and public transportation is more ample, these countries would be able to weather any significant rise in the price of gasoline much better than the United States. Public transportation in much of America is a joke, an is regularly lampooned as a way for poor people to get around. But if you view it as a government subsidy of the commerical economy, you see it as incredibly important. Carpools are commonplace in America, but they tend to go only to a person's place of work and their home. They don't go to a restaurant, Walmart, whatever, so they don't help the surrounding economy as much as a good trolley system.
Eventually high oil prices will effect everyone, even Europeans. The goal is to buy time. Many countries that do not have decent public transportation systems are going to suffer because of heavy oil prices. America is not alone. A South African couple lived in my flat for a while and told me of how dependent they were on cars. White South Africans tended to buy the same type of vehicles as Americans. Big engines for big roads that are flat and go on forever.
Governments need to spend money on two things: one building public transportation alternatives, and two finding a replacement for cheap oil. The world isn't running out of oil necessarily, it is running out of easy to drill oil. If a government were willing to force automakers to make all their cars electric, and only heavy trucks that carry goods use diesel, that may help things. Governments over on this continent are forcing people onto public transportation by making it more and more expensive to drive cars in cities through taxes. The British government is a leader in this movement, however, they are not upgrading their public transit system at a fast enough level to be an adequate replacement for people.
As populations condense, it will also be up to governments to upgrade inner cities. As suburban people find it necessary to move closer to their jobs in order to save money, they will not want to raise their children in bad areas. For America, a giant population fluctuation is likely to occur. Suburban people who have only driven past bad areas most of their lives will be reintroduced to them, in an intimate fashion. We might see dramatic change at the voting polls, with more and more voters demanding of their governments to make changes in policing, employment, and opportunities.
It will be all at once interesting and horrific to view. But it is necessary. And it might also lead to a solution to one of the great problems of our time: overpopulation. People in urban areas tend to have less children.