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Muddled Memes

April 26th, 2006 · 7 Comments

I just spotted the following meme making its way around MySpace—I’m leaving the whole thing as-written, so I don’t have to litter the text with “sic” for each of the myriad little errors:

On May 15th all myspace members are to not go to the gas station in protest high gas prices. Gas is now over $3.00 a gallon in most places. There are 72,110,073 members currently on the network, and the average car takes about 20 to 30 dollars to fill up. If all myspace members did not go to the pump on the 15th it would take $2,163,302,190.00 out of the oil companys pockets for just one day, so please do not go to the gas station on May 15th and lets try to put a dent in the oil industry for at least one day.

If you agree repost this bulletin..

This is stupid on a couple of levels. First, of course, it almost certainly has no significant net effect on oil company profits if people skip the pumps one day without otherwise changing their driving behavior: They’ll just end up having to buy more gas on the 14th or the 16th to compensate. In the highly unlikely event that enough people complied to make some kind of noticable effect on that day’s sales, you might be able to make some kind of symbolic point, but you wouldn’t be putting any kind of “dent” in the industry.

Second, and more importantly, it makes it seem as though the oil companies all get together somewhere and decide what oil prices are going to be, so some kind of show of dissatisfaction like this will make them mend their ways. Oil companies and gas stations will always charge exactly the same price for gas: Whatever they can get away with, given demand (current and projected) and production costs (ditto). If some company or station thought it were viable to charge a quarter less, they’d do it and draw off all the business from competing stations. Of course, if people actually changed their long term consumption behavior to use less gas, prices might drop. But then, you don’t need to organize boycotts for that to happen—that’d just be the price system working.

Tags: Economics



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brian Moore // Apr 27, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    You have to remember that these people (the myspace “protesters”) are purchasing a good just like the people buying gas. The good they’re purchasing is the “nice feeling I get from doing something I think is for a good cause” and the price they’re paying is 1 day’s worth of car travel.

    It’s why people buy free trade coffee (thank you Undercover Economist) and hybrid cars. It’s highly irrelevant to them that what they do actually helps, they just want other people to know they care, that they really do. They don’t actually want to help, they want other people to think they do.

    If you want lower gas prices, get a coalition together to pool money to subsidize it. If you want to hurt oil companies, invest in competitors providing substitutes. If you want green fuel, purchase carbon shares and don’t use them.

  • 2 Anonymous // Apr 27, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    “‘Some of the politicians must think oil companies are owned by space aliens, when in fact they’re owned by millions of Americans who invested their hard-earned savings in these companies,’ said John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute.”

    People oftentimes forget that these evil oil companies are made up of people just like you and me. They also seem to forget that when you buy something, both sides are trying to retain or receive the most amount of money. I don’t get why people think the oil companies are the bad guys for trying to get as much money as possible when A) it’s the people setting the prices, as corporations only charge as much as they can get away with, and B) the common people are trying to do the same thing to these oil companies (ie keeping as much money as possible) through more dishonest means (the government).

  • 3 PoliticalCritic // May 1, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    Not to kill your math, but you’re assuming all those MySpace members would normally go and get gas that day. That would not be correct. I doubt those 72 million even own cars and if they do, they probably fill up once every two weeks, give or take. So on a given day, there would only be about 1/14 of those people getting gas. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a good idea, but it wouldn’t cost the oil companies as much as you project.

  • 4 Julian // May 3, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Ummm… the whole point of my post was that it’s not “a good idea”; it’s a moronic idea and would cost the oil companies basically nothing.

  • 5 Gene Callahan // May 6, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Why call this a “meme” rather than an “idea”? I think “meme” is an entirely empty concept except that it is an attempt by materialists to avoid admitting that people think.

  • 6 Julian Sanchez // May 9, 2006 at 3:31 am

    “Meme” stresses the contagious nature (or at any rate, the intended contagious nature) of the particular idea. And, strictly speaking, a meme need not be an “idea” — it could be a behavior, for instance. Since the whole point of this kind of MySpace chain-letter is that other people are meant to copy it themselves and request that others do likewise, “meme” seems fully appropriate.

  • 7 James Kabala // May 25, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    This one has been around in various forms since at least 2001. See http://www.snopes.com/politics/gasoline/gasout.asp