By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Two economies

The New York Times today offers a hilarious front-page juxtaposition. My former Boston Phoenix colleague Mark Leibovich reports on why Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has long thought to have been a goner. The reason? The economy is just so gosh-darn good, yet the public doesn’t seem to realize it. Leibovich writes:

“This is an economy that by any statistical measure would be the envy of any administration of any party,” said John J. Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, who has known the secretary since Mr. Snow’s days as chief executive of the CSX Corporation. “Yet the public perception of the economy is a poor one.”

Nearby, though, is a story by Robin Pogrebin on how high gasoline prices are affecting working-class families. The top:

MAIMI BEACH, May 12 — Giving up the occasional rib-eye steak hasn’t been the hardest part for Ana Lopez, although her husband is a red-meat man.

More difficult are having to tell her 11-year-old son that he cannot go to the movies, and swearing off Sunday visits to her sister in Pembroke Pines or to her brother in Miami Lakes. These are the sacrifices required now that it costs $60 to fill her aging Toyota 4Runner.

Ms. Lopez, 48, who lives in the outlying suburb of West Kendall, must conserve every gallon possible for the 60-mile round trip to and from her job as the housekeeping manager at the Bentley Hotel in Miami Beach. “There is not enough money to spend for gas,” she said. “You have to think about it: If I go to see my friend, I won’t have enough gas to work tomorrow.”

What an ingrate Ana Lopez is! If only the Bush administration had a treasury secretary who could properly explain the good news, she would realize how wonderful everything is.

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  1. neil

    Can’t go to the movies? Can’t make an extra 50-60 mile round trip in your gas-guzzling beater on Sunday? If those are what passes for sacrifices these days I’d say the economy was doing pretty well. I bet a dollar they pay for cable TV. Hardship? I bet there’s a $2.00 cinema around. If not, jump on your bike and get together with buddies and pitch in to rent a DVD, or is everybody so poor nobody has a DVD player. And I suppose taking the bus up and down the Palmetto Expressway instead of driving, or having your brother and sister come visit you, or meet halfway somewhere, is out of the question. Ms. Lopez could try to car-pool. But she values her autonomy. “I don’t want to depend on nobody,” she said. “I’m not that kind of person.”There’s the rub. She had the illusion of autonomy, but in fact was dependent on cheap gas. Lopez doesn’t get manicures anymore, buys tilapia instead of salmon, and spends more time visiting friends within walking distance. Oh cruel fate!Used to be, you had less money, you made adjustments. You “economized”. Not any more. Now, you blame the government. As for carpooling, and public transportation–ick, out of the question–I’m not that kind of person!

  2. Anonymous

    Of course, neil, you leave this out of your post: “For Ms. Lacombe, gasoline costs used to be about $100 a week, about 11 percent of her $45,000 annual salary; that figure is closer to $200 a week now.” Seems to me that a doubling of this cost is painful to her.Not only that, Carter lost in part due to gas prices, and Truman almost lost because of post-war inflation when he lifted price controls. When did “used to be” actually occur?

  3. neil

    Anon I stand corrected, complaining about gas prices is not new. But what can Americans actually do about it, besides complain? Gas price increases are inevitable. The near-tripling of Lopez’ weekly gas cost (from $30 to $80 since when, it doesn’t say) can’t be too painful to her, if it’s not enough to get her to even consider carpooling. Carpooling instantly cuts your gas cost in half, more if you can find a third person. Which ought be getting easier to do with everyone in the same plight. And if more people carpooled there would be fewer cars on the road and she wouldn’t see any more 2 hr 45 min commutes. (Doesn’t that time tell you something’s out of whack?) She has options, but apparently finds them distasteful. So I guess the increased cost is more of an inconvenience than a pain.A few years ago people rightly tore into Bush and Cheney who when peddling Alaskan oil drilling reassured us that we would not have to change our “blessed” American lifestyle by conserving energy. Ridiculous we said! Wasteful, profligate, irresponsible! We as a society should take steps to wean ourselves of our dependence on foreign oil. Turn down the heat in the house and wear a sweater. Better gas efficiency, alternate fuels. Carpooling, HOV lanes, public transportation. Bike paths. Now the time comes to actually get in the carpool, and people supposedly just scraping by cling to this “blessed” one-person-to-an-SUV lifestyle, and reject alternatives. They’ve bought into the illusion of independence. When gas prices go up, the wastefulness of this car-centric lifestyle is exposed. Pampered Americans equate any adaptation to pain. But they are not the same thing. Don’t move to Dallas, Ms. Lopez. Just find a carpool buddy. it’s a good idea even when gas is cheap.High gas prices should be an inspiration to reduce energy consumption, not used for cheap political hits. I am not a Bush man. I don’t give him credit for the economy but do not blame him for high gas prices either. No politician seems bold enough to suggest to Americans that they could, perhaps, just drive a teeny bit less. It’s apparently political suicide. What, me adapt? Carter suggested that, and got bounced out on his ass, as anon says. But if you don’t want to drill in Alaska, and you don’t want to carpool either, then…what?

  4. neil

    While I’m at it and before my meds kick in, check out a 1996 Toyota 4Runner, which is what Ms. Lopez drives give or take a year. Yup that’s the kind of car you need to commute from West Kendall to Miami Beach. If I owned one of those I’d complain about gas prices too. And about whoever forced me to buy such a car, of course.

  5. Anonymous

    Neil, I think you are right in that people complain when they themselves can do something to fix a problem, and I did not realize that the Toyota 4Runner is an SUV. But gas prices are still having a negative economic impact for those with lower incomes.The same anon.

  6. Anonymous

    Personally, I’m waiting to see a major metro reporter skip the easy “Jane Doe is feeling the pinch from gas prices” angle and actually dig into whether the oil companies are breaking any laws. But I’m not holding my breath. So we’ll end up with more stories like these with occasional perfunctory quotes from oil industry spokesman that say “Of course we’re not price gouging” that aren’t probed any further. Then news editors will keep sitting around and wondering why people place more faith in Jon Stewart than their papers.

  7. MeTheSheeple

    I’m still waiting for a reporter to contrast Americans’ views and coping strategies of gas prices with those of Europeans’ …It can be tough to trade an old gas guzzler when prices are high, but people often can find a place closer to work and/or public transportation. The thoughts of what could happen with a -really- high gas price increase are interesting, though: Will the housing market in the outer suburbs crumble? Will the crumbling city cores suddenly become more viable?Suburbs and two-acre lots seem to be as American as apple pie, but a whole lifestyle could change given sufficient impetus.

  8. neil

    How depressing to discover a creature one despises, to be, if only momentarily, one’s strange bedfellow. In this case Bruce Tinsdale’s creation Mallard Fillmore making the same point that I made, in the top two strips.I detest Tinsdale and his duck but alas, agree with his point in this case. Note the similarity of the strips in question–he has replaced his old suspiciously Jewish-looking liberal with this new bald-and-unkempt-haired bespectacled meanie. The strips are visually identical. He only ever draws just enough so that his mean snipe du jour can get published on the funny pages.His other (see further down) pudgy bald-and-etc liberal wears a bowtie and half-glasses, indicating effete left-wing prissiness. I think of Tom Oliphant who could get away with a bow tie, and who was skinny and had a nice head of hair, and could polish off Tinsdale and his duck in a minute, while peering over his half-glasses, if ever he got the chance.Nevertheless, I think Tinsdale’s point about the energy problem is valid. Either drill for oil or pitch in to reduce consumption. Of course, you never heard Tinsdale mention conservation before in a favorable light. He’s only using it here to take one of his typical cheap shots. Will he ever show Mallard driving a hybrid? Fat chance–in the duck’s world, conservation is for “liberals” and other sissies.

  9. neil

    Oops Tinsley, not Tinsdale. Forgive me Mallard!

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