$20/gallon gasoline: heaven or hell?

Gasoline prices rank with beer prices and taxes as economic issues nearly every American reacts to. Now one writer has engineered a book designed to play to everybody's gasoline paranoia.

Gasoline prices rank with beer prices and taxes as economic issues nearly every American reacts to. Now one writer has engineered a book designed to play to everybody's gasoline paranoia. Nobody we know controls the price of gasoline, but we are sure somebody can or does or should. The new book: $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better. It's authored by Forbes writer Christopher Steiner. Steiner looks into the near future at $6/gallon gas and then the changes he foresees for "inevitable" $20 per gallon gas. Here's a Newsweek interview with Steiner. Here you can find an interview of Steiner that was on NPR today. This is a topic that will continue to garner attention during this summer driving season. Steiner sees more trains, smaller cars, shorter commutes, dying business models. If Wal-mart doesn't change its ways, he guesses, it'll go from big box to ghost box. Shipping produicts from China to central distributon points and then trucking them around doesn't work as fuel prices (he easily equates diesel with gas) increase exponentially. Steiner is seeing a future world of locavores, working at home or walking to nearby stores and businesses. That would mean huge zoning changes as many upscale neighborhoods now do not allow corner stores. Outside of a few major metro areas, much of America has minimal public transit. Steiner saves some of his strongest doomsaying for airlines: many of them simply die. One NPR caller from Alaska said he drives over 100 miles round trip to his job and that expensive gas will destroy the rural poor of America. A Kansas rancher called in and said his former cattle ranch is returning to forest because he can't afford the long drive from his home in town any more. A realtor--always looking at the bright side--applauds high gas prices because it compels folks to buy his real estate near the center of town so they don't have to drive. Steiner agreed, saying exurbia will be emptied out if gas hits $20. He didn't seem to think biofuels would ever be much cheaper than petroleum products. Steiner even sees a streamlined military. Steiner says the actual cost of gasoline pumped into American tanks in Iraq was several hundred dollars...per gallon. Nobody will be able to afford the frequent aircraft and heavy equipment use that the American military now takes for granted. He did not predict we will go back to warfare on horseback. Steiner's bottom line on how we may be living if fuel prices do start doubling every few years: globalization is reversible. He points out that for the first time ever China bought more new cars in the first half of 2009 than the U.S. The U.S. is rapidly becoming less crucial and less in control of the use of thw world's resources, especially fuel. If China can continue to grow it will sell more things at home, less at Wal-mart. You may not believe what Stiner's predicting (futurescapes are almost always faulty), but it sure is fun to argue about. Appropriately the NPR interview of Steiner came on a day when gas prices rose for the 48th straight time.

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