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Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006 | I wish gas prices would go up again. But after a week of nonstop, spastic news reports about pain relief at the pump, I’m guessing I’m alone in my views. In fact, most people are so ecstatic about falling gas prices that their so-called “consumer confidence” is on the rise, which means they’re all heading straight for Crate&Barrel, Wal-Mart or wherever they overload on goods they don’t need.
U.S. consumer confidence rose higher than expected in September after a nine-month low as Americans paid less to fill up their vehicles, according to the Conference Board’s index of sentiment released Tuesday. The New York-based Conference Board surveys 5,000 households each month to gauge how they’re feeling about the job market and the cost of living. Mostly, they just tell businesses whether to expect big sales. A separate ABC News/Washington Post survey of 1,000 people known as the Consumer Comfort Index also found that consumer confidence is rising despite a cooling national economy. The rise was attributed to gas prices.
Trust me when I say I’m not judging – I can’t even look at a Target without spending $50.
And let me also assure you that my 401(k) isn’t wrapped up in oil company stocks. So I have no conflict of interest in making an argument that higher gas prices are good for the country.
I’m just tired of being monitored – like a laboratory rat – after every injection of good news. (I refuse to eat cheese every time you make me feel good.) And I’m tired of the scrawny teenage kid who parks his enormous, black Hummer H2 in front of my house every day while he’s in school. Who is this kid? And what kind of parents would buy him such a ridiculous truck?
And that is the heart of my complaint. I have been secretly wishing that rising gas prices would force us to rethink how we live. We might buy smaller cars, drive less, walk more and consume less. Instead, we respond like mindless junkies every time the price of gas falls, assured that our brand new Ford Expedition is a reasonable purchase and that, for today anyway, the gas gods are smiling on us.
I try not to vilify the drivers of sport-utility vehicles and monster trucks, partly because I drive a small SUV, but also because these vehicles can be enormously useful when you’ve got something to haul. I also drive an SUV because it has long been paid for and because I work from home, which means I don’t drive every day. My husband drives our more fuel efficient Saturn sedan to work and that’s the car we drive around town. So I don’t have a problem with people driving trucks and SUVs, I do have a problem with people driving absurdly large trucks and SUVs that they clearly don’t need. Like the teenage kid parked in front of my house right now. He’s a symbol of American indulgence.
The least he could do is carpool with a few friends. But he drives alone everyday, struggling to parallel park what I can only imagine is a testament to his impending manhood. I find it endlessly vexing. I fantasize about letting the air out of his tires, but I’m afraid he’ll take revenge by crushing my Jeep. It could get ugly.
Thankfully, I have my own column. And here’s my message: What does it say about our society that as soon as we have an extra $20 bucks in our pockets we spend it on something else?
Sometimes I think these consumer confidence surveys are designed to manipulate us into spending. And I’m probably half right, although I’ve never noticed any uptick in my own spending when gas prices drop a few cents. But if I’m feeling good and my spending is truly mindless, I’m not sure I would notice. We shouldn’t let the drug pushers get to us.
If we all focus our budgets on buying things we need and less on the things we just want, we just might be blessed with a better society, more money in our savings accounts and fewer spoiled teenagers blocking our driveways.