Consider the matter of ''soaring'' gasoline prices.
That's ''soaring'' as in the hysterical stories on ''News at 11'' designed to create a crisis where one doesn't exist.
Surely, U.S. gasoline prices have risen. Regular unleaded prices now range from $1.39 per gallon in some southern Virginia counties to as much as $2 or more per gallon on the West Coast.
Last year, the stuff could be had for less than a buck.
But domestic reaction to these hikes sounds more like the cries of spoiled children.
Comedian Jay Leno -- he of the multi-vehicle, high-horsepower garage -- moans about ''high'' gas prices on ''The Tonight Show.'' Radio stations are ablather about finding the ''cheapest gasoline.'' And some members of Congress, economists all, apparently believe the best way to control consumption of precious fuel is to roll back a laughably skimpy 4.3 cents per gallon federal gasoline tax.
It's all nuts and hypocritical. Here's why:
Latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, an agency within the Department of Energy, show that U.S. residents continue to get a better break at the pump than consumers in the rest of developed world.
Our Canadian neighbors are paying the U.S. equivalent of $4.50 a gallon. Using the same measurement, consumers are paying $3.72 a gallon in Belgium; $3.94 in France, $3.63 in Germany, $3.84 in Italy, $4.22 in the Netherlands, and $4.61 in the United Kingdom. That's as of March 6.
Those higher foreign pump prices stem more from taxes than they do from oil supply manipulations by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), according to petroleum industry analysts.
It seems that politicians and energy policy wonks in overseas believe that the best way to control fuel consumption is to price it accordingly, and to use the resulting revenue to build mass transit systems for people who either don't want to, or can't afford to, drive in the first place.
What a novel idea!
But in the United States, where cheap gasoline is viewed as a birthright, there is the rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth -- this, in the same country where overall vehicle fuel economy last year fell to its lowest level in two decades.
There is a distinct difference between ''fuel economy'' and ''fuel efficiency,'' which often gets confused or goes ignored in the popular media.
''Fuel economy'' relates more to the amount of fuel saved. ''Fuel efficiency'' relates more to the amount of fuel used in doing a specific amount of work.
A 40-mpg Chevrolet Metro subcompact could be economical, yet remain inefficient, because it isn't getting the best use of fuel in moving its barely 2,000 pounds of weight.
A 17-mpg, 4,000-lbs sport-utility vehicle might not be economical, but it possibly can be said to be efficient, because of the way it manages fuel in moving substantially more weight.
Domestic and foreign automakers improved the efficiency of most of their vehicles over the last 20 years. The problem is that in the United States, the land of ever-cheap gasoline, consumers chose to buy the least economical models.
We bought trucks, lots and lots of trucks. In fact, we have been buying so many trucks that light trucks, as a group, now account for 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States.
''Soaring'' gasoline prices? Ha!
Light trucks average 20.7 mpg. Cars average 27.5 mpg. The most fuel-economical cars, mini-cars and subcompacts, such as versions of the Honda Civic that get about 50 mpg, barely constitute 1 percent of U.S. new vehicle sales.
Regular compact and mid-size cars go abegging, too. Would you like a fuel-economical Dodge Neon compact? Its maker, DaimlerChrysler AG, will give you a $1,500 rebate to take one off its hands. General Motors Corp. will give you $1,200 and other goodies to take a fuel-sipping Chevrolet Metro, and Mazda Motor Co. will give you up to $1,500 to drive off in a 2000-model, high-mpg Protege compact.
And please don't give me this malarky, heart-throb question, ''What about the poor?''
If there was so much governmental and media concern about the poor in this country, we would long ago have done what has been done in Europe and Japan. We would have established a sensible energy policy, taxed gasoline the way it should be taxed, and used the proceeds to establish a mass transit system that works. We show no political, intellectual or moral will to do it. We'd much rather cry at the pump.
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