With no newspaper and only intermittent internet access — my sister thinks I come to see her just for her wireless connection — I’m behind on the news.
Still, at the USA Today level of most Americans, I pick up the gist. I see consumers expect lawmakers to do something about high gasoline prices. Unlike, say, doing something about it ourselves.
One way to pay less, which doesn’t rely on government intervention, is to spend less.
Some years ago, I became attached to Fuller’s ESB, an excellent bitter. My local liquor store offered it at a price just a dollar above my then current favorite brew. For a year or more, I drank little else and enjoyed each bottle.
One day, the price went up to $9.99 a six-pack. The store could no longer buy it at a favorable price, they told me. I switched brands with some regret, but without a letter to my Congressman.
We can’t simply change brands when gas prices rise, but we can drink less of it.
Maybe oil companies are gouging now and maybe not. Maybe they’re just toughening us up for the future — something government is loath to do, unless you’re already on welfare. We can beat up ExxonMobil all we want; the price of gasoline is ultimately heading in only one direction.
Over the last several weeks, I have watched great gouts of my good fortune pass into the pockets of local tradesmen. At times, there were 16 or more vehicles surrounding the house. Vacation acquires a different flavor when so many people are working and you are not.
In the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to write checks for roofers, tilers, stonemasons, trim carpenters, cabinet makers, painters, appliance installers, plumbers, electricians, countertop and granite men, carpeters, stucco crews, door and glass men, furniture deliverymen, the contractor, plus dumpster and portatoilet services. The architects, structural engineers, surveyors, framers, water and power companies, excavators, lumber yard, concrete pourers, lighting contractors, insulators, floor layers, plasterers, painters and a few others have collected. The pavers, patio finishers, floor sealers, sound and security guys, landscapers and cleaners will come in after we leave.
It occurs to me I’ve been witnessing one conservative argument for tax cuts. Give individuals more of their money to spend as they see fit and they will pour it back into the economy, creating jobs and spreading prosperity in their communities.
It’s true, most of the money from my checks will bounce around this town for a while, buying groceries, making truck payments and putting new roofs on sheds before ending up in China or Saudi Arabia. But money spent by the government doesn’t just disappear into a black hole. It, too, moves around creating jobs and getting re-spent in the community.
The investment argument is true but a phony distinction; it’s a more acceptable way to say “I want to spend more of my money on myself and less that benefits people I may not know or like.”
In designing and siting this house, we tried to have a minimal impact on the land and to be very energy efficient. Yet it hasn’t been that simple. The geothermal system we chose will use the earth’s constant temperature to reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool the house. But it costs much more up front. In addition, it requires a sizable excavation to bury the pipes that circulate water underground. This collides with another goal — to disturb as little as possible of the fragile desert soil, which features cryptobiotic growths that take decades to form and may be centuries old.
In the end, only a relatively small area was disturbed. And in a setting featuring geologic formations millions of years old, what’s a hundred years? But is century-old, one inch-high ground cover less valuable because it isn’t an old oak tree?
A reasonable proportion of the packaging, scrap materials, pallets and other detritus hauled away from the construction site were recyclable. In the winter, a wood burning neighbor carried away wood scraps, but not recently. A shovel with a broken handle is headed for the landfill. So are the sturdy plastic buckets containing the stucco mix, though I retrieved half a dozen and the stonemasons are using another dozen. How many hundred plastic bottles have landed in the dumpster?
And I paid for it all to be hauled away. There won’t be a next time, but if there were, I’d build some waste recycling clause into the contract.
And all those pickups. They could not get here by public transit, and no doubt they need to haul materials and tools on occasion. But for this job, could they have truck pooled?