Gas boycott redux

I’ve been seeing news stories that somebody is proposing another one-day boycott of gas stations to bring down gasoline prices.

This thing comes up every few years, apparently. So let me save you some worry and hassle — it won’t work.

There are lots of different variations: don’t buy gas at all on a particular day, don’t buy a particular brand, don’t buy in a particular area. The gas companies will panic, the speculators will stop their nonsense, and the price will drop magically.

If only it were that simple.

If we don’t change our overall buying patterns, short term variations won’t affect overall sales or market conditions.

Think about it.

If you fill up today so you can boycott later this week, the gas companies sell just as much gas for the month. Or if you wait an extra day or so, the total sales will show a dip on the boycott day and a spike on those other days.

So what if they don’t sell anything at all today? They make up the difference the other days. In fact, if the boycott truly catches on, the local merchants will be the only ones hurt, because they don’t sell other things from their stores (gasoline usually nets them only pennies a gallon; they rely on other items for their profit.)

As for boycotting a particular brand, that’s also ineffectual.

Brands are largely an illusion in the gasoline industry. There are relatively few refineries in the U.S., and they turn out lots of different brands. If one brand gets boycotted, the other brands sell more. No one in the industry gets hurt, except, again, the local retailer.

If you want to reduce the price of gas, use less of it everyday. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, I know, but it’s how market forces work.

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