Michigan's governor, Jennifer Granholm, is running for re-election. I will almost certainly vote for her. But it dismays me to see she is running, once again, on her record of fighting "gas gougers." From her campaign web site
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, then Attorney General Granholm took action against 48 gas stations for gas gouging. The stations were required to refund more than $100,000 in overcharges to consumers and pay civil fines to the state.
I've ranted about this before, but, well, here I go again! Gasoline is, and generally has been, ridiculously underpriced in this country. This has, as you know, resulted in huge distortions in our landscape and our economy, as well as our aggressive and extremely expensive military policy. The American public has shown itself to be remarkably immune to responding to the many good reasons for driving less--reducing the 40,000-a-year death toll on the highways, reducing pollution, curbing global warming, stopping sprawl. The only thing that seems to ever put a dent in our absurd driving habits is higher gas prices. And in times of crisis, prices SHOULD go up.
Elsewhere on that web page
, Granholm explains:
Every day people are struggling to make ends meet when they have to spend $50 to fill their gas tanks. Meanwhile, big oil companies like Exxon Mobil are making the largest corporate profits in history. Exxon just approved a $400 million retirement package for its outgoing CEO, paid for by everyday people at the pump. That's just wrong.
It's wrong, but not because of "high" prices at the pump. Change corporate law to forbid golden parachutes. Send the Pentagon's $500 billion a year bill to the oil companies, not the [future] taxpayers. Enforce the anti-trust laws by breaking the oil companies up into tiny little pieces, none of which has the power to control prices. RAISE the friggin' gas tax so the government gets more of the windfalls. I realize that, even as governor, Granholm can't do most of these things by herself. But her attacks on gas stations are pretty much like trying a few privates for the crimes at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, which were clearly sanctioned from much higher up. I would also suggest that Granholm is relying on the public's innumeracy. She hopes that we won't notice that the $100,000 she got back from the gas stations is 1/40th of one percent of the Exxon golden parachute. Way to take a bite out of "crime," Jenny!
It is also strange that she would go after gas prices. There are few commodities available in which pricing is more open and, at least apparently, competitive. Gas prices are posted on big signs for all to see--If they are too high, there is usually another station close by. Also, much, probably most, driving is at least somewhat optional. And you really shouldn't attack "gougers" unless you are willing to go after hoarders as well. And yes, I consider anyone driving a large SUV to be a hoarder.
An argument frequently made is that high gas prices affect the poor most--the SUV drivers can afford the higher prices, but minimum-wage workers can't. True to some degree, but the bigger problems are that minimum-wage workers can't afford to live near where the jobs are, and that there are few alternatives to driving. (Read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed
for some insight into the affordable-housing problem.) I would hazard a guess that there is at least as much "gouging" going on in apartments, where one or two landlords tend to dominate local markets, as in the gasoline. And housing is even more expensive, and less optional, than driving.
The real crime isn't how much the oil companies charge for gasoline--it is how little they pay for oil: an extremely valuable non-renewable resource that should belong to all of humanity. Going after the gas stations for "high" prices is absurd, and I'm disgusted that this pandering is what Granholm has decided to run on.