Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Hosed at the Pump! (It's Good for You)

Sure, gasoline is cheap in Venezuela and Nigeria. But would you rather live there or in Western Europe, where you'll pay at the pump, but enjoy a healthy society?

Some honorable members of Congress called on car drivers to go on strike today against high gasoline prices. 

Buying expensive fuel in an Esso station in Bogotá. 
That's a sure way to get votes - even from the great majority of Colombians who'd be harmed by lower gasoline prices.

While cheap gasoline may sound nice, I've blogged before about the many costs to the economy, quality of life and the environment and even our health, including less export revenue, worse traffic jams and pollution, more global warming and more sedentarism and obesity from increased dependance on cars.

El Tiempo newspaper also points out that the gasoline taxes pay for things like the search for more oil reserves - which presumably will benefit the country in the future - and fighting poverty. And, that, even with Colombia's relatively high fuel prices, the government's gasoline price stabilization fund is running in the red. And, that the country continues, insanely, to subsidize diesel, which is the dirtiest, most harmful of fuels.

Cars wait on Jimenez Ave.
Does Bogotá really need more traffic jams?
Also, in Colombia, where the monied minority own the cars, fuel subsidies go predominantly to the wealthy.

And, I'll point out, it's been widely documented that almost nowhere outside of Singapore do the costs paid by drivers actually compensate for the resources cars consume and their huge impacts on society in roadway maintenance, air, noise and water pollution, traffic fatalities, dealing with junked goes on and on.

But, for a long time I've wanted an excuse to make a chart like the one above linking quality of life (and governance) to gasoline prices. No, it's not scientific, and you could find exceptions. But, in general, nations with costly gasoline tend to function better and provide better lives for their people. Why might this be?

Want to save on fuel? By a bicycle. (You'll probably move faster, too.)

These nations:

 - Have the political will and wisdom to design economics for the long term, by taxing fuel and investing in infrastructure, health, education, the environment, etc.

- Have healthier democracies which can withstand demands for short-term, facile answers.

- Have more societal solidarity, which translates into a belief that taxes paid will return benefits.

I also can't ignore these nations' relatively stable and healthy economies and low levels of violence. I won't try to argue that raising gasoline prices reduces homicides (altho I could try). But, both high gasoline prices and low violence rates are symptoms of a healthy, well-functioning society.

In short, where does Colombian want to be categorized? with cheap-fuel nations like Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia or with the expensive-fuel nations of Western Europe and Japan?

I think the answer's pretty obvious.

Related post: Why Expensive Car Fuel is Good for Colombia

(Fuel price info from CNN.COM)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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