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Elitism Alert

by @ 3:17 pm on June 25, 2008. Filed under Dumbasses, Economics, Gas Prices, Oil Prices

Andrew Sullivan on the joys of expensive gasoline:

$4 a gallon is the best news this country has had in a very long time. Here’s to $5. It’s the only way Americans will ever learn.

Because, you know, stupid us we all don’t see the joys of living in big cities and taking bicycles and mass transit everywhere.

14 Responses to “Elitism Alert”

  1. KipEsquire says:

    But remember, the bicycle has to cost at least $600 and you have to use it in blizzards.

  2. MB says:

    By this logic, I suppose it makes you a sadist if you decide to let your 10 year old find out exactly what will happen when he eats an entire bag of candy in one sitting.

  3. MB,

    I honestly don’t understand your logic.

  4. MB says:

    Well, as I read yours, Andrew Sullivan is an elitist because he thinks there might be a lesson in the population facing the costs of unthinking oil consumption. My example is pretty much an analogue of that.

    (Of course, I’ve got nothing to say about the very manly making fun of bikes. You two just have me, there.)

  5. Matt says:


    Part of the problem is that we live in a huge country. Not all of us live in New York, Chicago, LA, or DC where it’s feasible to take mass transit or ride a bike. I live in a rural town in Illinois where public transit is not an option and riding my bike many places is dangerous or would just plain take forever. Just for me to get to work every day I would have to ride my bike down a principal highway for 10 miles going up and down large hills. Not only would I have to endanger myself by riding alongside cars and semis zipping by at 55+ mph, it would take me about 45 more minutes to get to work. Driving a car is really my only option. The nearest grocery store is 7 miles away, the nearest theater is 20 miles away, and I live in one of the bigger towns in the area, I can’t imagine living in one of the smaller towns where I have to drive 10 miles just to get gas. So it is elitism when Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s a good idea for people like me to pay $5 per gallon of gas when I don’t have many other options.

  6. MB says:

    Umm, who brought up riding a bike? Andrew Sullivan didn’t. I didn’t. The only way a bike got involved was someone setting up a straw man so they could run him through.

    Mass transit and bikes are not the only solutions (or even part of, in areas like yours) to the problems of energy consumption. But by pretending it is and getting all indignant about it, it trivializes what should be an important conversation.

  7. MB,

    Sullivan makes the mistake that most people who don’t have to worry about the expenses of daily life do, he thinks everyone can live like he does.

    As Matt points out, that’s simply not the case.

    From my perspective there is nothing “right” or “wrong” about the price of gas, it simply is what it is because of the way the market works. To argue, as Sullivan does that we somehow deserve these higher prices to “teach us a lesson” is to argue, in effect, that the government should keep the price of gas artificially high even if, five years from now, we’re back in a situation where the market price for gas is $ 2.50 a gallon.

  8. Matt says:

    “we all don’t see the joys of living in big cities and taking bicycles and mass transit everywhere.”

    That’s where a bike was brought into it.

    When Andrew Sullivan says that $5 gas is “the only way Americans will ever learn,” what exactly am I supposed to be learning here? I realize that Sullivan himself said nothing of a bike, but what else am I supposed to take from what he’s saying? What lesson am I supposed to learn other than that I need to find an alternative to driving everywhere?

    Also, Sullivan’s remarks are elitist because a comment like that implies that he’s too far-removed from reality to realize that some of us have no choice but to burn gas.

  9. Matt,

    More importantly, the “gee ain’t this great” attitude that Sullivan and others seem to have about high gas prices strikes me as being as much a moral judgment about how the rest of us choose to live our lives as anything else.

    I have seen more than one hyper-passionate article over the past few weeks claiming that this rise in prices is going to lead to the the “death” of suburbia. While I find that argument fundamentally absurd — where, for example, are all those suburbanites going to live if not in suburbia ? — I think that it reveals the attitude that many people have that America’s car culture is evil and needs to be destroyed.

    I took Sullivan’s comment to be of that type.

  10. MB says:

    Where did Sullivan say that, Doug? I missed it. But I’m pretty sure you just made up the part about keeping the price of gas artificially high (as opposed to the artificially low it has for years). There’s all sorts of external costs of gas that aren’t reflected at the pump, which have led to a lot of unsustainable personal choices in America.

    Matt, there’s all sorts of things that could be taken from what Andrew Sullivan’s saying (and christ, let me point out right now that you’ll get me to make fun of bikes before you get a general defense of Sullivan from me). It’s not about alternatives to driving (tho’ it may involve what you drive – if it’s 12mpg Suburban for you and your dog, I’ve not got much sympathy for you). It’s about support for alternative energy resources (and transport run on them), trade policy (hmm, maybe it’s not such a good idea that my local supermarket depends entirely on cheap transport from a country half way around the world for its vegetables), and the true costs of exurban sprawl.

    Finally, isn’t one of the criticisms of “elitism” is that the speaker assumes it’s all about him? Last I checked, something north of 80% of the US population lived in cities and burbs, and not out in rural areas.

  11. MB says:

    Anyway, to be clear – my problem here was characterizing a simple statement that Americans might be forced to think harder about their choices by high gas prices as elitism was 1) more a function of the critic’s own biases than anything actually said and 2) minimized what is a genuinely important discussion.

    Hopefully we can all agree on point #3, that Andrew Sullivan is a douchebag.

  12. MB,

    What I said is that Sullivan is saying the same thing that people who argue in favor of keeping gas prices artifically high. Sully changes his mind so much I rarely try to figure out what he thinks.

    If a choice truly is unsustainable then the market will react accordingly and people will change their behavior in reaction to the change. To some extent, this has happened as gas prices have risen.

    Some people, though, still continue to make the choice to fill up that Chevy Suburban or Tahoe at the pump and take the dog for a ride. And you know what ? If they are willing to pay the price for the gas, then they’re free to do whatever they want.

    Finally, isn’t one of the criticisms of “elitism” is that the speaker assumes it’s all about him? Last I checked, something north of 80% of the US population lived in cities and burbs, and not out in rural areas.

    And yet it’s the people who like in urban areas who seem to think that their way of life is so much better. Well, you know, not everyone wants to take Metro to work and have a Starbucks on every corner.

  13. Hopefully we can all agree on point #3, that Andrew Sullivan is a douchebag.

    I think that’s something nearly everyone can agree on.

  14. MB says:

    Doug, you keep using the word “market” in relation to gas prices, as if you mean something like a situation in which all parties to the transaction freely agree to an exchange. Surely you don’t actually mean that?


    And it seems to be those who like to sling charges of elitism that are defending the subsidization of the lifestyle of a portion of the population. Sure, you didn’t say you were, but neither did anyone here that their lifestyle choices were superior. If you keep setting up straw men to cut down, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time.

    (Tho’ I’ll point out that I don’t really care whether you *want* to take Metro to work or not. But if you’re going to whine about the high cost of gas while you ignore a long term solution to avoiding it, I’ve got – again – zero sympathy. I *want* to spend half my working year on Grand Cayman, but I’m not bitching about the lack of gov’t supports for my doing so.)

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