Hey, did you know that today, May 19th, has been formally declared “Stick It Up Their BUTT Day?”
What? You haven’t heard? Come on, it’s been formally declared and everything! By who? I think it’s a Hallmark holiday, let me check…
No, wait, look at that. It’s just an e-mail chain letter that’s been going around! Let’s take a look:
From: Lourdes Paepke
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2004 10:51 AM
Subject: FW: Don’t purchase gas on May 19
Hey, everyone. We all hate chain letters, but lets try and pass this one around, and also do it!
It has been calculated that if everyone in the US did not purchase a drop of gasoline for one day, and all at the same time, the oil companies would choke on their stockpiles.
Hahaha. How great would that be? Lets see how THEY feel!
At the same time, it would hit the entire industry with a net loss of over 4.6 billion dollars, which affects the bottom lines of oil companies.
Therefore, May 19th has been formally declared “Stick It Up Their BUTT Day” and we’re asking all of you not to buy a SINGLE DROP of gasoline that day!
The only way we can make any kind of impact is if you forward this email to as many people as you can, and as quickly as possible.
Waiting on the administration to step in and control prices is a long game that we’re going to have to pay for in the end. Take some control, and make your voice heard!
We can make a difference. If they don’t get the message after one day, we’ll do it again, until they do!
So do your part and spread the word. Then, mark May 19th on your calendars. Even better, put a post-it in your car reminding you not to buy gas on May 19th!
It’s time to say enough is ENOUGH!
There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin. Okay, how about we start with a little thing called “credibility?”
This e-mail smacks of misdirection. Lines like: “It has been calculated…,” “…has been formally declared…,” “The only way we can make any kind of impact…,” and my personal favorite, “Waiting on the administration to step in and control prices is a long game that we’re going to have to pay for in the end.” They all come off trying to sound very officious, but without citing any sources they appear to be nothing more than a typical internet rant. (And what does that last line even mean, anyway?)
But, okay, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that some very important, official organization has provided us, the American public, with a holiday we truly need: “Stick It Up Their BUTT Day.” What now?
I guess we don’t buy any gas. I’m lucky enough to live a half-mile from my workplace and generally only top off my tank, on average, about once every month. I pay so little attention to gas prices, I can’t honestly tell you how much it costs me, but I’d guess it’s somewhere around $27 a tank. My wife drives about 4 miles to work (and usually drives home for lunch, too) but her Mazda is more fuel-efficient than my Jeep so she can get by with only two, $15 tanks per month. If you assume that gas prices have risen by 50 cents per gallon lately (which I doubt), that means I’m going to spend maybe $7.50 more each month. Oh, the pain!
I know, I know… not everyone is like me. Some people absolutely have to spend more money on gas for much longer commutes. But if they’re going to participate in our little Hallmark Moment, wouldn’t they simply gas up the day before or the day after Stick It Up Their BUTT Day? Hey, here’s a plan that’ll work: Let’s boost the oil industry’s profits on Tuesday so we can average everything out on Wednesday!
Wait, wait, wait. I was supposed to give this chain letter the benefit of the doubt. We have to stick it to the oil companies! Americans deserve lower gas prices! We need to punish these heartless corporations into lowering our prices!
I thought that oil was a global commodity and was subject to the laws of supply and demand. At least, what I learned in Econ 101 seems to point in that direction (Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand!) Okay, let’s assume that a perfect, 1-day boycott at the gas pumps will result in an industry-wide, net loss of 4.6 billion dollars like our chain letter says. Spread out over all the companies, is that even enough to cause a dent? If Exxon can survive the Valdez disaster, I’d be willing to bet the industry as a whole could lose 4.6 billon without breaking a sweat!
Whatever. We somehow still we manage to catch them with their pants down… and then kick ‘em in the nuts for good measure. The oil industry is crippled by our plan and everything is great because now they’ve got too much gasoline piled up. They’ll have to sell it cheap before the freighters arrive with the next shipment, right? They’ll have no choice but to sell it to us at a loss!
Now wait a minute. Hasn’t the resent recession has taught us what the big companies do when their bottom line is affected? They start laying people off. So now we’re trading high gas prices for an increase to the unemployment rate. The oil companies will now have fewer resources to call upon to replenish their stockpiles. Hmmm. That’ll make the supply go down… making the demand go up! We’ll just be increasing the cost of gas again!
The whole thesis of the chain letter is that gas prices are getting too high. Why is it that Americans tend to forget that we have far and away lower gas prices most any other country on this planet? And even with today’s prices on the rise, we’re not even close to our all time, inflation-adjusted high.
Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and argue that skyrocketing gas prices could actually be a good thing.
Somewhere around 1993 or 1994 I saved up to buy my first Discman for around $200. It was by Kenwood and had an awesome feature set, including its own credit card sized remote. The only problem was that it took four AA batteries and with all that juice would barely last two hours. Quite the drawback for a portable audio device I wanted to listen to all the time.
Around seven or so years later I finally gave up that old Kenwood for a new Aiwa. This new CD player cost less than half as much and had things that Kenwood hadn’t even dreamed of back when they were rolling my old Discman off the assembly lines. Not only did the Aiwa’s 45-second anti-shock protection work like a charm, but I could also play 12 hours of music on just two AA batteries!
(As I write this, I’m listening to an MP3 player that uses just one AAA battery and it lasts for 16 hours, has no moving parts, weights about 3 ounces, and doubles as a voice recorder and USB keydrive, to boot!)
See where I’m going with this? Clearly a direct comparison to the automotive industry would be presumptuous, but it’s obvious that market forces actually work. Without an incentive, though, auto makers are quite comfortable sticking to their tried-and-true blueprints for success.
Now, the government has a habit of stepping in with incentives (we call ‘em laws), but they’re geared more towards cleaner air and fuel-efficient cars. But come on. We all know that the government doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to implementing industry-wide changes. Anyone following the digital/HDTV regs? People generally don’t like being told what to do by the government, and corporations hate it.
Even so, some companies are trying to lessen our dependency on gasoline by experimenting with battery-operated electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen powered engines, and even solar power. Think about it. What if gas prices were to keep going up? Don’t you think everyone but the OPEC nations would be doing what they could to improve the alternative power sources? I’m all for prices rising in the short term if it means that our transportation costs could be even lower in the future.
You know what? I’ve still got a quarter-tank of gas, but I might just go out and fill it up on Stick It Up Their BUTT Day, anyway.
By the way, Snopes has an article on this here.