It was only last summer, as gas was climbing up over $2.50 a gallon that we were all screaming. Congress held hearings (which, I’ll grant you, they did again today. With much the same result). Every local TV station had “Pump Patrols” letting you know where you could save 2 or 3 cents a gallon, if you were foolish enough to drive several miles out of your way to go buy it. I’m fortunate in that I go past two of the lowest-priced stations in town twice a day … but even those are up around $3.80.
And today’s announcement of anticipated shortages caused the price of crude to shoot up to over $132 a barrel. Where is the outrage?
I have heard of some people who are driving less. And indeed, I’m trying to drive a little less and be very conscious about combining trips and not doing a lot of unnecessary driving. We’ll all do a little, but not as much as we used to. But it seems like we’ve just given up. No one cares anymore, or just thinks “Well, I can’t do anything about it, so I’ll have to just pay it, or do without”.
But I have another theory as well, and it has to do with how we pay for things. Almost no one uses cash any more.
I know that when I go to the gas pump, or the grocery store, or most anyplace else, I’m just as likely to whip out my debit card as hand over cash for any transaction over about 10 bucks. I don’t write but one check a month, on average. Almost all my bills are paid online. And maybe this weaning away from a cash-based economy is part of why we don’t seem to feel the pain at the pump any more.
So little cash changes hands anymore. Our checks are direct deposited, they show up as numbers on a computer screen when we check our online banking, and the debit cards and auto bill pay and online transactions send it out the other end. Just numbers on a computer screen. Honestly, it amazed me sometimes that the whole system doesn’t just fall apart. The only reason it has any value at all is because we say it does. Someone does a service for us, or manufactures a product, and we just move ones and zeros from one file to another … ours goes down a little, his or hers goes up. And God help us if we all suddenly wanted to hold it in our hands. Then, I’m afraid, we’d become a truly cashless society. Nobody would have any.
Now I know, a lot of people do still have money, and spend it. But I think for huge swaths of the middle class (and we do still have a middle class) it’s all just numbers that we move around, getting a little green folding money when we have a specific use for it. And that’s frankly, a little frightening.
It’s often been said that if we all had to actually pay our taxes, in cash or write a check like we do every other bill, there’d be tax revolt in this country in about 15 minutes. But the insidious system we have, in which we never actually see the money, and it doesn’t even show up on our computer screens as available makes it too easy to ignore that they’re taking it. The same is true with property taxes and insurance. Rolling all that into the mortgage payment just makes it too easy to ignore. I’m beginning to think the price of gasoline, and groceries, is heading that direction. Somehow, the vast majority of us manage to move around the ones and zeros to make everything match, and not enough of us are feeling any real pain because of it.
As the price of gasoline and food continues to go up, that will be less and less possible.
I know I buy a lot less expensive cuts of meat than I used to. No more porterhouses, and precious few sirloins unless they’re on sale. Beef is very difficult to buy, and so it’s now a treat. Pork is less expensive, and I can get nice cuts of pork inexpensively. Turkey thighs, too, are good, flavorful, and cheap. But there aren’t any cheaper cuts of gas.
For the time being, we’re doing OK. Though Andie said she spent $65.00 filling up her little Nissan Altima. There’s not going to be any relief from that any time soon. I’m wondering where is the tipping point. Where does it become more cost effective to actually try to find some kind of alternative?
I’m thinking it’ll be soon.