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At $4, Americans Get "Rational"; Don't Worry, They'll Snap Out of It

Washington Post opinion columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed piece the other day that said in effect that $4 per gallon is the tipping point at which Americans stop buying gas guzzlers and become "rational."

The column appeared on the washingtonpost.com web site on June 6, but didn't hit my local paper, The Record of Bergen County, N.J. until June 8.

I agree with some points Krauthammer makes. It's self-evident that $4, or at least the rapid run-up to the $4 neighborhood, has been the tipping point. And he correctly notes that statistics show Americans are driving slightly fewer miles, an indicator that actual behavior has changed. He also cites GM's recent plant closing announcements, along with a "go" for producing the Chevy Volt, as evidence of genuine change.

If only he had stopped there.

But he spoils a lot of what he says with a very heavy-handed, "I told you so," about how he, the author, saw it all coming. If only people had listened to him since way back in 1983, when he started calling for a U.S. energy tax, "to curtail consumption and keep the money at home," instead of paying higher prices to various "Saudis, Venzuelans, Russians and Iranians."

Krauthammer says wouldn't it be nice if U.S. taxes had raised prices to the $4 per gallon point, instead of allowing all those foreigners to jack up the price. That way, the money would be getting "recycled back to the American worker."

Like a lot of simple answers to complicated questions, that glosses over a lot of territory. So much territory, I will only point out that there are some Texans that are lining their pockets, too. And I would point out that auto industry executives have also been calling for higher gas taxes for years. Like Charles Krauthammer, they don't have to worry about getting re-elected. (Me, neither.)

Anyway, I agree with much of what Krauthammer said, and I suspect he would agree with me, when I say I wouldn't count on Americans staying "rational."

If gas prices should moderate, and/or if technology improves, American drivers will go right back to convincing themselves they really do "need" a vehicle that can haul seven or eight people, plus all their stuff, in air-conditioned comfort, at a steady 75 mph. And then Krauthammer and I can sit back and say, "I told you so."

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