Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yes. No. Repeat the Question?

The phone rang. I picked it up and inquired, "Hello?" It was a recording - Survey 2011.

The first question was: Do you believe gasoline prices are too high?

I answered "no."

Before anyone gets in a snit, though, I should clarify that even at $3.75/gallon, we're still paying less than half what we were paying per gallon for gasoline when I lived in Germany in 1994.

Further, given what I believe about Peak Oil and about the changes that will be wrought over the next decade in response to energy depletion, I think the cost of gasoline needs to be a LOT higher to get us to change our lifestyles. I live on the corner of what is one of the busier roads in my community, and day or night, rain or shine or driving blizzard, there are always cars on the road, on average one every ten seconds.

So, too much? Absolutely not. It needs to go a lot higher before most people will start making changes, which is a real shame, because those who wait too long to start weaning themselves will find the process a lot more difficult and a lot more painful.

The next question was: Do I think unemployment is too high and do I think we need to do more to create jobs and improve the economy?

I had no answer for this one. First of all, it's not a yes/no question, really. There are a lot of nuances to what's being asked, a lot of things that need to be clarified, before I could give an accurate answer.

Yes, unemployment is pretty high - so I hear. I don't see it, much, at least in my community. People, in my community, who want a job, find a job. They don't always find a job making what they were making before or what they'd like to be making or even what they need to be making to maintain the average American lifestyle, but not having a job and making less than one wants are not the same thing.

As for do I think "we" need to create jobs, I can't answer that one. I mean, it really depends on the "job", right? "We" could build and staff more retail centers, and that would be creating jobs, but to what end? Are people really better off working for that store?

Worse, if we do invest in continuing to build those suburban retail centers, aren't we also encouraging the car-centric lifestyle that will be negated by question one? It becomes one of those vicious cycles - we build the stores to create the jobs but the jobs are in areas that encourage/require automobile transportation, and in the end people are working to pay for gasoline.

Perhaps we would be better off if more people became gainfully employed in the "informal" economy. In fact, my guess is that a healthy number of those who are being counted as "unemployed" are probably already making a decent living doing things that simply aren't counted as "employment" for government purposes.

And as for doing something about the economy, personally, I think our belief of what makes a healthy economy is based on some outdated ideals that are no longer supported by our available resources, and rather than trying to fix what can not be mended, we simply need to let it die so that the new economy - one that is more local - can be born.

We need to give up the idea that everyone should have unlimited access to megawatts of power - and do more than simply change a lightbulb or two.

We need to give up the idea that everyone (well, everyone in the Western world, that is) is entitled to a car and a full tank of cheap gasoline.

We need to give up the notion that a well furnished household must include a 32" screen plasma television.

We need to give up the idea that a college education is the only path to success, and indeed, we need to redefine what "success" means.

Do I think unemployment is *too* high? Please define "too high", and then I can answer.

Do I think "we" need to improve the economy? Absolutely, but I suspect my ideas of what is meant by 'improve' would be a little different than what the poll writers mean by 'improve.'

I answered the first question, but I didn't respond after the computer posed the second question. I stayed silent, thinking, "What do I think?" After a few seconds, I was told that I would have to answer yes, no, or repeat the question. I hung up the phone.

I'd love to chat about what I think with someone who might actually care to hear my answers, but that machine can only understand "yes", "no" or "repeat." And my answers are a little more complex than that.

I'm pretty sure that the phone call was a political ploy. I don't know, or care, by whom, as I think both sides are pretty well entrenched in an ideology that is faltering, badly. I'm sure there was some important message by Senator Somebody or at the end I would have discovered that the poll was sponsored by Republicrat Party.

If they use my answers, at all, I'll be in the 5% who doesn't think gasoline prices are too high. I'll be the one everyone hates, because it will be my fault that the government isn't doing something about the high price of gaoline, and I'll be in the minority of people who know that the government is not in control of those prices.

In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed on the line and answered their questions: No, gasoline prices are not *too* high (when there are still cars traveling down the road every ten seconds regardless of time of day or the weather, the price isn't "too" high). No, unemployment isn't *too* high (when people can still find employment, the rate isn't *too* high - try living in Zimbabwe where the unemployment rate was 94% in 2009). No, *we* shouldn't try to restore the economy (when there are still people out there buying televisions and children's toys, the economy isn't in nearly as bad shape as we'd like to believe).

But my answers would have fallen into the +/- 5% accuracy :).

No one wants to believe that *we* can't make things better (i.e. like they were before - although, depending on where one was, "things" weren't so good back then, either) if we complain loudly enough. Right?


  1. I totally agree with you, here in France it's the same situation.
    Cars are gods, nobody will stop jumping into their cars to nip down the road to buy a kilo of sugar!
    What do the french do on a Sunday ?
    They go shopping, " nobody " has any money but it's so much more fun walking round a shop and buying a load of crap that they don't need, but what they are made to beleive that they need, rather than going to the park on a bike or spend time spending nothing.
    If petrol prices don't go up nobody will change their way of life. I'ts sad.
    The good side of the economical crisis in Europe is that people are starting to grow their own food, a couple of tomatoe plants here a couple of lettuces there, it's a beginning..
    Live in hope or die in despair. I choose HOPE.

  2. Nice post Wendy. Petrol is $1.50 a litre here in Australia, which works out to be U$5.55 a gallon. Your fuel prices must be highly subsidised, so maybe a reality check is in order?


  3. @ Carol - me, too. I choose to hope that we'll get smarter and do the right thing ;).

    @ Gavin - yep. That's what I've been saying. $3.69/gallon is nothing compared to what people in other parts of the world are paying. You'd think we'd appreciate how low our gasoline prices really are. Definitely need a reality check ;).

  4. You're spot on with your comments.

    I had to laugh at the 32" plasma TV thing - I know people who've upgraded twice since 32" plasmas were all the rage! First to forty-something inches and LCD, then to 50" or even 60". Apparently 32" is only acceptable for the kitchen or bedroom now.

    Those same people complain about the cost of living, and rising food prices. There's going to be a huge readjustment of expectations in the coming years!

  5. Great post, I hate these kind of surveys with their simplistic questions that don't allow you to give a real answer, they are only interested in gathering statistics that say what they want them to say.