Thursday, October 30, 2008

A flatulent discussion about unfair gas prices

Now, let me get this straight. When oil was trading for $140 a barrel about three months ago, the gas prices were averaging $4 a gallon.

Today, oil’s down below half that and gas is about $2.69 a gallon.

Now that oil’s down to half of what it was six months ago, wouldn’t it stand to reason that a gallon of gas would cost an equivalent $2? Can anyone explain that so it’ll make sense to me? It looks like we’ve been getting screwed on both the up and the down.

And can anyone explain why we’re so happy about it? Why people are skipping around with more spring in their step when, if the market and common sense are any indication, we’re still being overcharged by nearly $10 for every fill up?

No, of course you can’t. No one can. Even the best experts, the people we rely on to ensure the engines of commerce run smoothly, have no clue what they’re talking about.

For heaven’s sake, if even a steady, experienced hand like George W. Bush, a man who earned a master’s degree in business from Yale, one of the most elite and prestigious business schools in the world, a man of steely resolve, looks confused and frightened by what’s happening on Wall Street, then what are common simpletons like the rest of us supposed to think?

Okay, bad example. But you get the picture. Economics has been made so deliberately complicated in the pursuit of an easy buck that the system’s broken. No one can understand it.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m defiantly proud to have earned an F in Economics 101 at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, a place one popular T-shirt declared to be “The Fountain of Knowledge Where We’ve All Come to Drink.”

And drink we did. We drank until we ran out of money. Then we called home for more. And it didn’t stop us from drinking when even that was gone. It was all thanks to a then-groundbreaking new business model.

Yes, those were the days of the magical Blue Key Card. It was the early 1980s before they were so reckless about giving credit cards to drunken unemployed students. That’s where the promoters of Blue Key Card saw their opening.

The Blue Key Card was offered for free to fiscally casual college students around the midwest. It could only be used at bars and restaurants.

So when you ran out of your money and Dad got wise to what you were doing with his, you simply, hallelujah, deployed the Blue Key Card. I still remember the euphoria that would erupt at the bar when me or one of my buddies decided to extend the inebriation by pulling out the BKC and brandishing it at the surly bartender the way gallant King Arthur unsheathed Excalibur in defense of some fair maiden.

“Pour us goblets of your finest brandy, you drink-schlepping scoundrel! Our night has just begun! Bring us your finest meats and cheeses! Tonight we live like noblemen! It’s not costing any of us a dime! And if your mood improves toward our drunken revelries, we might even toss in an extra farthing for you, so step lively!”

Of course, as we knew from bitter experience the next day would bring the inevitable hangover. What we didn’t foresee was the mailman bringing us an inevitable bill. Who knows how many of these transient students simply skipped on the bills before they folded? (I’m still kicking myself for having responsibly paid mine off, damn it.)

That’s when I learned all I ever needed to know about economics. Talk all you want about supply, demand and things like decreasing elasticity. None of it matters. I learned it’s better to pay as you go. The good times will eventually result in a bill, not to mention a skull-popping hangover.

And what happened to the enterprising gang who ran Blue Key Card? You’d think they would have wound up bankrupt and disgraced, but who knows? Perhaps they went on to run mega-billion dollar companies with sterling reputations. You know, places like Enron, Bear Stearns or Freddie Mac.

Which brings us back to the artificially inflated gasoline prices. Just today, Exxon reported a $15 billion quarterly profit.

It’s clear they’re screwing us. I don’t know how they’re getting away with it, but I know this much.

If they keep it up, I’m going to start looking around for a mini-mart that accepts the Blue Key Card.

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