I know, I missed the date. Not to worry, though: something like this is guaranteed to come along again.
Even before there were memes (or social media sites on which to share them), you could count on an e-mail message about once a year from a well-meaning friend or relative advertising another “gas buycott”. A buycott is a bold plan to stick it to the gasoline companies by refusing to buy gas for one whole day. According to the proponents of this plan, the sudden drop in demand will activate market forces and send prices plummeting.
Do you remember that time when gasoline prices plunged because everybody agreed not to buy gasoline for one day? No you don’t, because it never happened. All previous calls for “gas buycotts” have been met with astonishingly low participation, and the price of gasoline has never dropped as much as a penny in response to such a protest. “Ah,” you say, “but if we could just motivate people to participate, surely that would put a giant hurt on the pocketbooks of oil company CEOs, right?” Wrong. Even if everybody in the United States refused to buy gasoline for one day, it would have almost zero impact on gas prices.
Allow me to pump some logic into your common sense tank. As long as we continue to drive our vehicles as much as we do, we’re going to consume gasoline at pretty much the same rate. It doesn’t matter when we buy it; the point is that we buy it. If you filled up your tank on June 13 in anticipation of not buying gasoline on June 14, you’ve just given the gasoline companies the money you would have spent on June 14, one day in advance. The extra money you spent on the 13th will simply roll right over to prop up the companies’ June 14 profits.
Here’s an analogy: suppose you buy lunch every day from the same restaurant, but you’re worried because their prices have been creeping steadily upward. As a means of protest, you encourage your lunch companions to avoid buying lunch from the restaurant on Friday. But you’ll still have to eat something on Friday, so you all buy two lunches on Thursday and put one of them in the refrigerator. Surely you see the logical error here, right?
“But it can’t hurt to try, can it?” Actually, it can. Independently-owned service stations sell gasoline at a thin sliver of a profit, and have almost no control over its price. While the major gasoline companies would feel nothing from a day-long nationwide gas buycott, many mom-and-pop gas stations would suffer greatly. They still have to pay for the gas they’re selling, even if nobody pays them.
Gasoline buycotts, like so many other armchair protests, are doomed to failure because the ostensible protestors don’t actually want to inconvenience themselves in pursuit of their goals. Want to know how to really bring down gas prices? Stop driving so much. Trade in your gas-guzzling SUV for a hybrid or economy car. Carpool or use public transportation whenever possible. In other words, for most people, the only way to reduce gasoline prices is to make a major lifestyle change. As I’ve said before: real change hurts. The bigger the change, the more it hurts.
Gas prices are just one of many issues that people get upset about, but not upset enough to do anything meaningful. For the sake of armchair activists everywhere, I’ve included this flowchart. I hope you find it helpful.