09 February 2006

Consumption Feedback

Three posts received in the Mail Bag...

I found the President's state of the union strangely similar to much of what
Friedman had to say in his Flat World book. IMHO that book should be
required reading for all econ students at a minimum, for undergraduates as a
whole would be even better. I actually gave that book to Justin D. last
fall, as well as a copy of "the Worldly Philosophers" by Heilbroner....and I
think he actually read 'em! Econ doesn't have to be drudgery. Of course, I
read plenty of other stuff as wel, but. I have a voracious appetite for that
type of info.

I'm curious about a couple of comments you've made recently. I would like
for you to elaborate on your sentiments regarding the dinner conversations
you over heard in Colorado and how your globalized perspective filtered
them. If you don't wanna make them public I understand.


>A few random thoughts:
> 1. Fossil fuels are an incredibly efficient source of energy for moving
> things. For example, it takes less than a gallon of gasoline to move my
> car 20 miles in as little as 15 minutes. Takes about the same amount of
> water and gatorade for me to run 20 miles in about 3 hours. Suspect that
> the Taurus weighs more than ten times as much as I do. Depending on where
> I buy the water, the combination of water and gatorade might cost more
> than the gasoline too.
> 2. Small cars are great. I used to drive a Plymouth Colt that could get
> over 40 MPG on the highway. But, they aren't real practical when you have
> a family. We could barely fit everything we needed for me, my wife and
> our three year old son to go on a week long vacation into our Taurus
> sedan. In fact, we couldn't take my bike with us. If you have two kids,
> then it's just about impossible to car pool to school or sporting events
> or whatever if you just have a sedan. So, families just end needing
> larger vehicles than small cars.
> 3. US Government regulations on average gas mileage for the fleets of
> cars sold by automakers effectively outlawed the larger family station
> wagons. SUVs and mini-vans aren't calculated in that average. So, we
> drive larger vehicles with worse gas mileage than station wagons to
> increase the average fuel economy of the car fleet.
> 4. I don't think a lot of gasoline consumption in the US is related to
> the pleasure of driving. Most of it is related to the perceived value of
> having a certain size of house or property, which are often cheaper the
> farther they are from urban centers. So, many people drive more not so
> much for the sake of driving as they drive for the sake of living in a
> particular place. I'm lucky to be able to live less than 20 minutes from
> a place where I can do work that I enjoy.
> 5. You are correct that we send lots of money to regimes that are
> repressive and some that sponsor terrorism. But, we also buy lots of oil
> from Great Britain and Canada, and it's hard to do the second without
> doing the first. Also, buying lots of oil from Russia is probably not
> a bad thing to do, even if Russia is not exactly what we would call a
> democracy, if it helps keep that country muddling along toward the 20th
> century.


I would enjoy hearing more of your thoughts on consumption because this is of real interest to me. I had the same "uneasy" feelings you had once after watching a large garbage truck haul away the leftovers from a week's cruise. The garbage (particularly the amount of food) thrown away was disturbing to my wife and me.

We have always been on the "low end" of the consumption chain (we commute 100% by bike, no longer own a car, do not use our A-C in our hot summers, keep our heat low) etc. There is of course, more we can do but we also don't want to go on a campaign to make a statement or be activists. We feel the best we can do is live the way we feel is best for us, and hopefully, by example and not coercion, encourage others to do the same.

My wife lived for 2 years in a run down room while serving in the Peace Corp and I have lived and travelled in a number of third world countries so it may be easier (at least less of an adjustment) for us than many. but it is an important lesson and thank you for bringing it up.

I also enjoyed your comment about stopping to assess if you are doing things to make you happy, or just going through the motions. I know your blog is just a medium to express yourself but often they are what other people think about also so thanks for sharing.



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