Guest Opinion: Bludgeoning the poor with higher gas prices

Published 6:12 am Thursday, March 17, 2022

By Ray Nothstine, Carolina Journal

Many ideologues focus on the politics of higher gas prices and what it means for the November midterm elections. Yet, poorer North Carolinians and Americans across the country are bludgeoned by rising energy costs, particularly today’s sticker shock at the gas pump. In North Carolina, the average price of gasoline is more than $4, and it’s much higher in many parts of the nation.

While the middle class can weather higher gas prices for longer, those on the lower-income ladder are getting clobbered. Little to no discretionary income means that the poor must decide between their gas tank, paying rent, or buying groceries. Since most of the working poor aren’t part of the laptop class or have the option to work from home, they are forced to pay the higher prices.

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Some politicos simply dismiss the poor by saying they should buy an electric vehicle. In Washington, Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg received criticism for promoting electric vehicles during record fuel costs. And last year, Buttigieg said that families that buy electric vehicles will “never have to worry about gas prices again.” Of course, while electric cars are slowly becoming more affordable, the average price still hovers in the mid-$50,000 range. That’s out of reach for not only lower-income families but many in the middle class, too.

More distressing, instead of compassion for the poor, many on the left now openly sneer at anybody who dares to complain about high gas prices.

“A clean conscience is worth a buck or two,” declared Stephen Colbert to his adoring audience during a recent taping of his show. “I’m willing to pay $4 a gallon. Hell, I’ll pay $15 a gallon because I drive a Tesla!”

Kyle Ward, a Libertarian Party candidate for the N.C. House in Wake County, summed up the smugness perfectly, “Regardless of your opinion on the war, higher gas prices will be felt by the poorest North Carolinians while our wealthy politicians and celebrities feel morally superior from inside their Teslas.”

Unfortunately, higher gas prices mean higher prices everywhere else, given that so much of our economy runs on fuel and the price of oil. Most food is delivered by trucks, and the gas price also impacts charitable giving and food delivery to the poor.

On top of that, given surging inflation, 64% of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck, according to a CNBC article.

Rural residents are particularly susceptible to the punishment of high prices at the pump. Americans outside of cities live further from work, hospitals, stores and schools. Yet the answer is not to openly sneer at flyover Americans but increase domestic oil production and incentivize American energy independence. Not only does energy independence help our pocketbooks, but it boosts our national security. Groveling for more oil from foreign dictatorships that mistreat and abuse their citizens shouldn’t be a choice we have to make in America given our energy potential.

Even when their policy solutions were misguided, the left legitimately cared about poorer Americans in the past. Now the ideology of utopian green energy schemes to remake America has flamed a cavalier attitude and growing dismissiveness for those struggling to make ends meet. Likewise, those on the right cheering for higher gas prices because it helps their preferred party in November are themselves callous towards the poor. It reveals another ugly side of our culture and society being politicized today.

The government and citizenry should promote the common good, and that includes enacting policies that don’t decimate the lives of poorer Americans. Increasing energy output should be a top priority. While it’s true that President Biden might not be entirely to blame for high gas prices or that the free market can’t immediately fix all supply issues, there is a basic lesson in compassion that is now overlooked in favor of partisan politics. 

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.

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