Chain e-mail won’t lower gas prices

By Kevin Wilson

With this election year that’s not really an election year, it’s amazing to see the impact of people-powered politics.

Candidates like Barack Obama can solicit small donations online and put 100,000 people behind his political movement. At debates for both Republicans and Democrats, moderators can quickly change the direction of a candidate debate by asking questions a viewer e-mailed while watching.

But there are drawbacks to what some have referred to as an “American Idolization” of politics and general policy. We can be led astray, blinded by a belief that any action will induce positive change.

Not depressing you, just warning you. Your e-mail inbox is likely to get something about the National Gas-Out Day, if it hasn’t already.
It happens near the beginning of most summers, because that’s when gas prices rise most often. This year’s Gas-Out Day, my inbox tells me, is May 15.

The text is going to go something like this: Gas is nearly $3 a gallon at the pump. Pledge not to buy gas on that day, and we’ll hit the oil companies where it hurts so they have to reduce prices.

It’s become most popular on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, because the e-mailer can put some numbers behind it, however faulty they may be. If MySpace has 75 million users, one e-mail writes, and everybody spends $25 to fill up their tank, the impact of such a day would cost oil companies $1.875 billion.
Let’s break this down:

1. I have a car, and I know I don’t fill up my tank every single day. Sometimes I only need to fill my tank once a month, so the assumption is I probably wouldn’t be buying gas that day anyway. Still, let’s assume that an average person needs to fill their tank every 10 days.

2. A social networking site like MySpace is bound to have a mix of people. Some of them will be adults with high-paying jobs and cars that require a lot of gas. The majority, though, will likely be unsigned music groups, college students who live on campus and have little need to drive, or teenagers who don’t have a car. Still, let’s assume 75 percent of MySpace users have cars.

Taking our new math, we’ve got 56,250,000 people who drive, and only 10 percent of those will need to fill their cars that day. If each person spends $25 at the pump, that’s a total sting to the oil industry of $140,625,000.

And that doesn’t hurt oil companies anyway, because…

3. We’re not conserving gasoline at all. If you end up buying gas on May 14 or May 16, what happens on May 15 won’t matter much. Oil prices are driven by supply and demand — they go up in the summer because people drive more. Walking to work, or taking public transport every so often, would be a better long-term solution to gasoline costs.

I’m also mad because Gas-Out Day falls on my birthday. There are better ways we can bond together. I urge all who intended to not buy gas on May 15 instead send a dollar to Kevin Wilson’s People-Powered Politics, c/o Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico, P.O. Box 1689, Clovis, NM 88101.

I promise I won’t spend it on gasoline.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail:
kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com