I was watching some Sunday talk shows recently and they shared something in common. Each one raised questions about rising gasoline prices.
There were former national economists, current professors at significant business schools, political gurus, and everyone else who might have something to say. And everyone has something to say.
The questions were the same: How high will prices go? How much can people afford before it affects the economy?
And perhaps the most significant question, "What can we do about this?"
Is this deja vu all over again? Isn't this roughly the fifth gasoline crisis that has existed in contemporary history? It's funny to me just how short-term our national memory can be.
The fact of the matter is that everything that is happening today has happened many times since the first gas crisis back in the 1970s. And people still behave in the same manner each time this happens.
Every time this happens, they go into a frenzy. "How high can prices go and how much can I afford before this becomes unbearable?" "Will this ever end?”
Every time this happens the sale of small cars escalates. My recollection is that one time people paid above the suggested manufacturer price for small imports. You probably remember that big shots in the community would no longer be the people driving large luxury cars. Rather, they purchased brand new Honda Civics that's scored about 40 miles to the gallon highway.
Every time this happens we collectively decide that things must change and we're going to have to give up something. Yes, we are going to forgo large cars. We're going to conserve energy. And as for the federal government, it's going to have to investigate alternative energy supplies.
Indeed, the federal government just enacted a new national energy policy. While it has been on the drawing board for two years, it does painfully little to address alternative energy supplies.
Every time we have one of these crises, within a few months the crisis gets better. Prices gradually come down a little.
The first time that a barrel of oil goes down it makes the first page of the New York Times and it also makes it onto national network news. The second time, it receives just a little less press and this continues to the point where it becomes old news and no one cares. And then, nobody remembers.
Adults become most interested in losing weight after they've had a heart attack and most interested in stopping smoking after they have some kind of cancer scare. But even heart attack victims often revert back to high-fat diets. And even smokers on oxygen often continue to smoke.
Maybe it's all about human nature. Old habits just die hard.
Right now we're in the middle of another gas crisis. I have to believe that dealers selling SUVs are having a harder time making sales right now. And I would imagine that many American families are reducing discretionary driving.
But if history repeats itself again, in a few months when all of this becomes history discretionary driving will go back to where it was and so will SUV sales. And once again, driving a fuel-efficient car will become less cool.
Last year I visited Florence and Rome. I would imagine that gasoline prices are about the same in both cities. And they are much higher than here. But the approach to this issue was radically different in each city.
In Florence almost everybody drove a small car, often just big enough to fit two people. Many people rode bicycles. And it seems that every body walks at one time or another.
Rome appears to be more cosmopolitan. While there were some small cars, there were many mid sized and larger cars as well.
We need to become more like those who live in Florence. We need to stop the silliness and stop buying big gas consumptive SUVs. And we have to develop a better sense of long-term memory. In three or four months, when the problems once again self abate, we need to keep thinking about this issue. And maybe doing something that is long term beneficial this time.
Or, we can continue to make the same mistakes over again. This is not Washington's problem to fix. It is everyone's problem to fix.