What Can You Do About Gasoline Prices?

Gasoline prices in America are higher than they’ve ever been. According to some observers, the situation is bordering on a national crisis.

The question is: What can you do about it?

When confronted by challenges like these, we have two possible ways of responding. We can try to solve the problem on a global scale … or on an individual basis. Let’s call the first approach, which involves the community as a whole, a political response. And let’s dub the second approach, which involves as few people as possible, a personal response.

Being aware of our options – political, personal, or both – is an important step toward taking some sort of action. So let’s look at the issue of gasoline prices.

1. On the political level, you can (a) educate yourself about the causes and (b) petition various organizations (political and private) that might be able to influence change.

Learning about what has caused oil price increases might provide you with a certain amount of intellectual satisfaction. And writing your legislative representative or contributing to a political action committee might improve your mood. But such political responses to this particular crisis are highly unlikely to affect the price of gasoline. Given what you know about supply-and-demand economics and global politics, you realize that there is a 99.9 percent chance that gasoline prices will continue to increase for as long as you are on this earth.

2. On the personal level, you can (a) educate yourself about the effects of those price increases and (b) take action to protect yourself … maybe even profit from them. But, again, you would probably conclude that gasoline prices fall into the “things I cannot change” category.

(Remember the “Serenity” prayer: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”)

For several years, I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t seem to care much about political issues. I have opinions about such things as gasoline prices, immigration, and unemployment, but I don’t really care about them. Still, there are times when I feel strongly about casting my vote. But even when I do, I wonder: Have I really done anything?

What’s wrong with me?

I think the problem is that I don’t have much faith in political solutions, which are generally slow, complex, and unsatisfying. What happens, generally, is this: Based on biased information, you come to a (mostly predetermined) opinion on a given subject. Then you spend time, energy, and money hoping to have your opinion represented by the people you vote into office.

What you discover is that the politicians you help elect do all sorts of curious things once they are in office. And very few of them resemble the actions you had hoped they would take when you voted for them.

In fact, there sometimes seems to be an inverse relationship between what a candidate says he wants to do and what he can do once he is in office (probably due to the competitive nature of our two-party system).

On a personal level, however, you can have a good deal more control over the results of your own actions.

If you are worried about gasoline prices, for example, you can spend your time trying to influence the government to outlaw SUVs, subsidize the gas industry, or start wars and seize oil fields. None of these solutions will change the inevitable. And none of them will take place in the foreseeable future (if ever).

On the other hand, you can sell your Land Cruiser and buy a Prius. Or you can car pool. Or move. Or you can increase your income so that the extra money you are spending on gasoline becomes insignificant.

If you take that last option, I can’t help but point out, you might also be able to solve all sorts of other larger, political problems that affect your life.

Worried about the demise of the dollar? Invest some of your extra income in the Euro or the Yen. Concerned about the collapse of Social Security and Medicare? Create your own retirement and healthcare fund that will take care of future needs even if you never get a penny from the government.

Some would argue that solving problems on a personal level is selfish. Yes, you will be able to afford $4-a-gallon gasoline, but what about the people who can’t?

Well, they’ll have to learn to get along on less gasoline. Europeans pay about double what we do for gas and they are learning how to live with it. They drive less and in smaller cars.

Although I’m skeptical of political solutions, I understand their pull. Who wouldn’t want to end poverty, unemployment, racism, and crime by passing a few laws?

But it doesn’t work that way. Laws are passed, one after the other, this way and that, until finally every social cause is buried in regulation. Years pass, and the problems get worse. Or, if they get better, they get better despite – not because of – all the well-intentioned lobbying and legislation that took place.

I’m a businessman, not a politician. I tend to look at problems in a personal way. If I hear that drug clinics successfully rehabilitate only 10 percent of their patients, I am not interested so much in why the 90 percent failed but in how the 10 percent succeeded.

If I can identify the path that the few, successful people have taken, then I can take that path myself. And if it works for me, I can teach it to another person. Eventually, by trying to make things better one person at a time, I might make a larger difference.

I can’t guarantee it. In fact, it isn’t my primary goal. But that’s why I believe that you can make a difference in this world, on a limited basis, by taking personal action.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]