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In Defense of Gas-Guzzling

Mises Daily: Thursday, June 28, 2001 by

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We’ve all listened to the incessant criminalizing of SUVs and of those who have a fondness for driving them. The anti-SUV crowd is led by the maniacal green people, though they are joined by the carpool fanciers and the general collectivist rank-and-file that despises anything remotely resembling status or success. And, let’s face it, an imposing vehicle of great size and impenetrable steel does smell quietly of status as it turns up its nose at the compact economizers around it.

The main SUV accusers, those shrouded in green, are led by the Sierra Club, America’s most contemptible anti-SUV cast of characters. The Sierra Club recently kicked off summer with a press release calling for President Bush to raise fuel economy standards.

The aforementioned press release is titled, "DRIVERS ASK PRESIDENT BUSH: SAVE US MONEY ON GAS BY RAISING FUEL ECONOMY STANDARDS," but it quickly becomes an environmentalist plea to curb global warming by way of giving us dinky and/or hybrid cars. Let’s look at why the argument for gas-guzzling is the only legitimate and sound reasoning on this issue.

"Saving money" is not a collectivist notion, nor can it be converted into such a sentiment. The Sierra Club and its bevy of supporters claim to speak for all drivers when they plead to our executive and legislative bodies to release us all from this sordid habit of trading dollars for gas. That’s nonsense.

Oddly enough, these people find it difficult to understand that spending one’s money is done by nature of one’s own volition at the individual level. Choices in the marketplace are subjective in nature, and a consumer’s choice reflects that individual’s preference between varied product options—a freedom that we, as consumers, strive toward. These choices are made more obtainable by manufacturers providing us with a variety of products.

Automobiles come in a melange of sizes and shapes and varied characteristics, so that consumers can pick and choose vehicles which best suits their lifestyles and personal needs. It’s perfectly legitimate in a free-market society for an auto consumer to choose size and strength over gas conservation; after all, it is that consumer who will pay the additional gas expenses that are the result of his choice.

Contrary to Sierra Club dribble, drivers cannot save money on gas; only an individual driver can. If I, as a user of automobiles, wish to own a thirteen-mile-per-gallon minibus and "guzzle" gas to my heart’s content, it is entirely within my realm of choice to do so. What if I don’t want to save money on gas? What if I feel a more urgent need for safety and roominess than I do for pocketing an extra twenty dollars per week that I now spend on gas?

Surely, that’s my decision—and only mine—to make. I like to guzzle gas, so I waste my money on gas. I don’t like to smoke cigarettes, play poker, or eat junk food, so I don’t waste my money on any of those, but I do uphold the rights of others to buy and spend on those items as they see fit.

So why the collective yodeling for Yugo-like standardization? The green groups like the Sierra Club have a love for all things collective, and they extol Al Gore environmentalism as the greatest of all ends. The greens, like Gore, despise the internal-combustion engine. For them, this vital invention is, in a sense, a great evil, for it represents industry and human progress, both of which are on the environmental left's hit list.

In 1999, for example, the Sierra Club went bonkers over the production rollout of the huge, 7,500-pound Ford Excursion. They referred to this thing of beauty as a "suburban assault vehicle" and "a rolling monument to environmental destruction."

So now we can comprehend the real crux! It’s not about Mr. President saving us all a little pocket cash; it’s about all things green and cuddly. In fact, back when the Excursion was rolled out before the public, Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program, stated, "The Excursion guzzles gas and pollutes the air. It's basically a garbage truck that dumps its pollution into the sky."

So there you go. The appeal for cost-cutting evolves out of repeated and failed attempts to curb the appetite for big cars that guzzle gas. When the environmentalists’ tactics fall short of evoking sympathy for their cause, they try to appeal to the consumer's wallet.

However, the idea that a collective group of "drivers" can put together a petition for legislative favors is outrageous, indeed. After all, if these folks who are so fond of fuel economy really want to drive vehicles that are capable of an appropriate level of economizing, they can go out and purchase the automobile that will be most suitable to meet their desired fuel standards. They can save their own money, and let me squander mine. In fact, they can pass on the glorious Excursion and buy the marshmallow Ford Focus instead. But as for me, there’ll be no marshmallows in my garage.

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Karen De Coster, who lives in Michigan, is a business professional, freelance writer, and graduate student in economics. Send her mail and see her daily article archive.