How High Oil Prices Will Save America

Kevin Nguyen argues that the oil crisis will bring out the best in America’s capitalist instincts.

The worst thing that could happen to America right now would be oil prices dropping to under $100 a barrel.

As a college student, I feel pain at the pump just like everyone else. Cheap gas sounds like a blessing, but it would hurt the country.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

When gas reached three bucks a gallon, Americans accepted it. But as the national average passed four dollars this summer, people finally started making fundamental changes to their lifestyles. More commuters now take public transportation, and in general, people are cutting back on their driving.

Though these adjustments stop far from fixing our energy habits, they’re still a step in the right direction. For many, there’s no reason not to take the bus to work.

McCain’s camp, in accord with the Republican Party, is intent on tricking people into believing that this oil crisis can be solved with offshore drilling (and they could get away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddlin’ environmentalists and their stupid dog). For the record, the U.S. government’s own Energy Information Administration stated that offshore drilling would not affect crude oil prices until 2030 and, even at peak production, the output would be “insignificant.

The Republicans also pin high prices on oil speculators–a faceless, anonymous group of greedy suits. Sure, speculation is part of the story, but not a big enough one to serve as scapegoat. Buying a futures contract on oil is not the same as consuming it. While we’re at it, let’s blame Darth Vader for the crime rate and Miley Cyrus for teenage pregnancy.

It’s in politicians’ blood to lay fault on their competitor’s feet. That’s predictable, but here’s the greater problem: the idea that rising oil prices are temporary. Realistically, oil is a limited, nonrenewable resource.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

We might see gas become a lot cheaper soon (cough, November). It will be a short-lived reprieve, but enough to convince Americans that our way of life–driving everywhere–can continue. This hope might be the most dangerous element of all.

Some argue that lower fuel costs may save several floundering airlines and car manufacturers. That’s true, but with the oil crunch, businesses are improving their practices more than ever. Airlines are cutting costs, making their operations as efficient as possible. American car companies are (finally) investing in hybrid and alternative energy automobiles. Sure, some companies will go under, but the fittest will survive.

At the heart of our country’s values is not vast overconsumption, but capitalism. Businesses become complacent in their success and only strive to better themselves when a competitor steps up. Historically, we’re a last-minute country. It takes a crisis to galvanize us. Even our involvement in WWII was finally spurred by a direct attack on our soil.

So by the rules of free market and competition, let the most efficient player win.

I think many Americans fear a step down in quality of life. We’ll have to consume less, take public transportation more, and spend less overall. But why do we see this as a bad thing? Our lives will become more economical, more efficient. Giving up laziness and complacency sounds more American to me than defending it.

This is an emergency; react accordingly.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.