Like many boys my age, I grew up fascinated by cars. I idolized the Pontiac Firebird in “Smokey and the Bandit” and the set of exotic cars from “Cannonball Run.” I had a precious little stack of hand-me-down copies Road and Track which I practically memorized. I patiently waited for the Indy 500 to come around every year, setting aside the day to watch.
Americans value our autonomy, and for me turning 16 meant gaining a new sense of freedom.
I still love cars, although being a father of four means choosing my next ride based on seating capacity and cargo space over speed. More than that, though, I realize that my love for things that go further is at odds with my role as a father. Watching Formula 1 races with my children on Sundays, I can’t help but reflect on the statement, “We don’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children.” So I see the importance of balancing the thrill of a 1,000 horsepower machine flying around a racetrack with figuring out how to get every mile out of a gallon of gas.
And as much as Americans love the autonomy and thrill of cars, we also dislike laws telling us what to do. This is what makes one of the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act a win-win. Instead of mandating what kind of cars we can buy, it extends a $7,500 tax credit for electric or plug-in hybrid cars that make more efficient cars more affordable (bonus: many are made in America).
One of the improved aspects of this program is its extension to used cars (a $4,000 credit will be offered). This will make more of these vehicles available to more Americans.
The best part is that it also increases American autonomy. Consider the wild swings in gas prices over the past two years. While the cost of electricity also fluctuates, the cost per mile for electric vehicles is about half that of gas cars, and over 98% of electricity is produced within the US.
Meanwhile, we all know that whenever there is any kind of crisis, global oil prices rise and pump prices rise faster and stay higher for longer than crude oil prices.
While gas production has been hampered by the lingering effects of the pandemic, oil companies are posting record profits. They have no reason to change the situation. Even if we had enough oil production, refining and transportation capacity to support our needs here in America, no oil company is going to sell gas here for $3 a gallon when it can get $4 in Mexico or $5 in Europe. Oil companies are not beholden to the American public, they are not bound by patriotism, and they do not care about “America First.” Oil companies are loyal to one thing: shareholders.
So if US oil companies have no reason to find ways to ease prices, what expectation can we have that OPEC countries or Vladimir Putin would do anything to lower prices at the pump?
The truth is that very few countries that make up the world’s top oil producers share our interests, and because oil is traded on a global market, we have always been at the mercy of the world’s top oil producers.
Not long ago we sent $1 billion a day to other countries for oil.
Not long ago we sent our soldiers and sailors to protect our oil interests abroad. And still today foreign countries can pull the levers making our lives more or less painful.
There is nothing you and I – the average consumer – can do to affect the global oil supply. But we can control demand, and one of the easiest ways is to buy more efficient cars.
As we reduce our oil consumption, we reduce the power that foreign countries have over our economy and international affairs in general. Even climate change deniers should be able to see the benefit of removing Putin’s main source of income and global influence.
The Inflation Reduction Act may not do much to reduce inflation in the short term, but in the long term it could have a major impact on American autonomy. I’ll gladly trade the sound of an engine for this.
Will Wood is a small business owner, veteran, and semi-decent runner. He lives, works and writes in West Chester.