Drugs and SUVs

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In the comments section for Nick's earlier post on SUVs, Kevin suggests the anti-SUV commercials are merely sarcastic.

I can certainly see his point. When the government's "do drugs, support terror" commercials came out, a friend and I talked about spoofing them with a "use gas, support terror" spot. (After all, why stop at SUVs?) And whoever came up with the Arianna spot probably did have something similar in mind.

But given their context, that's not how the commercials work. They were funded as an earnest anti-SUV campaign with a not exactly ironic spokeswoman. Their stated purpose is to persuade people not to buy gas guzzlers, not to mock a deceptive government propaganda spot.

So ultimately, they're not disputing the anti-drug ads at all; they're jumping on the bandwagon.

NEXT: Can They See the Real Pete?

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  1. “So ultimately, they’re not disputing the anti-drug ads at all; they’re jumping on the bandwagon.”

    Nonsense.

    They’re actually taking a nice middle ground. By comparison, they make the anti-drug ads look silly, because the terrorists we worry most about are in fact Middle Eastern, not South American. So that point is made. Then, if you link purchasing something with the end use of the profits (the basis of all boycotts), think about the link between oil money and terror.

    We won’t stop using gas tomorrow, so let’s focus on the areas we’re needlessly wasting it. It’s fine to say it should be legal for you to buy a gas-guzzler, as long as you pay for the gas you consume. I agree. However, the government, through outright subsidy and the defense budget, is artificially depressing the price you pay, in effect ensuring that *I* pay for your 8-mile-per-gallon land yacht that you fail to take either passengers in or take off-road.

    The final point the ads always make is “tell Detroit we need hybrids.” This is a reasonable middle step to getting off the oil bandwagon. It recognizes we’re not going to restructure the economy tomorrow, but points us in the direction the Japanese have already gone. (There are no American-made hybrids. I know. I counted them. Twice.)

    It doesn’t call for government intervention, it calls for a change in consumer habits. Isn’t that what we as small-l libertarians have wanted instead of government fiat? Isn’t smoking a social problem, best left to society and the market? This is simply answering the societal part of the idea that the gas consumption problem is best left to society and the market.

    The next step is to stop subsidizing oil purchases. Hopefully the Bush administration won’t invade strategic reserves just because you “like to ride up high” the way the previous administration did–something criticized on the pages of Reason, if memory serves.

  2. I haven’t seen the ads yet, but I’ve seen the results of the ads. Without calling to question the purity of purpose of ads’ creators, they have done several good things. First, they are making consumers question their SUV purchases. Second, they are bringing to light the hypocrisy of the anti-drug ads they spoofed. Finally, they are making all of the pundits spin on their pointy (talking) heads.

    Like good art, these ads are not only windows on the soul of the artist but also mirrors which reflect your own soul. How you view the ads and their message forces you to examine what you believe.

    Look at what these ads have done to the various contributor to Reason. You all liked it as a spoof of horrible government propaganda. You hate it because it is propaganda itself. You should like it since it is informing consumer of the consequences of their choices. You should hate it because it the work of a political pundit stroking her own ego. It isn’t produced by the government, but it is political agitation. In short, the ads cause you to take a stand and discuss several real problems.

  3. My post was very specific: I think the SUV ads implicitly concede to the message in the anti-drug ads. (Fair enough, one could admittedly say, since they’re meant to curb SUVs not end the drug war.)

    For what it’s worth, I drive a tiny, tin-can Toyota and made a failed 4-month attempt to conduct my life in L.A. on bicycle. I am not hostile to a grassroots campaign for hybrids and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Nevertheless, I think SUVs have become a whipping boy, an easy way to feel like you’re saving the world without having to actually make any personal sacrifices. Sure, I don’t have an SUV–but I never wanted one, gas issues aside.

  4. The underlying premise of the ads is fine – reducing our reliance on Middle Eastern oil to power our economy is not a bad idea, in and of itself. The problem with the ads is the target that they picked. I’m not an SUV fan by any means, but SUVs are only a very small piece of this much bigger problem. As Jacob Sullum astutely pointed out the other day in Reason, the ads could just as easily be taking stabs at people for not riding bikes, or not using mass transit, or using a gas-powered weed eater instead of an electric one, or consuming any good that had to be transported by a vehicle powered by an internal combustion, gasoline-burning engine.

    The bottom line is this – Huffington is picking on SUVs because, for whatever reason, SUVs are a political hot-button right now (probably because Americans have such a love/hate relationship with them – Americans who own and drive them love them, while the rest of us by and large have some degree of dislike for them). Political hot-buttons generate controversy and publicity, and guess what, publicity sells books. I have no problem with Huffington going on a TV/radio tour to pimp her book. It’s standard practice for writers, singers, and actors to generate as much buzz as possible about their work. I just wish more people would take these anti-SUV ads for what they are – a backhanded publicity stunt. Nothing more, nothing less.

  5. “It doesn’t call for government intervention, it calls for a change in consumer habits.”

    That’s exactly why the ads are stupid. For starters, it puts the onus on Detroit, as if foreign makers don’t sell SUV’s. Second, it completely ignores the fact that consumers have already had the choice for more fuel-efficient cars from Detroit and many buyers choose not to buy them.

    Your argument is essentially “Buy hybrids because the US government won’t stop subsidies on its own.” Never mind the fact that hybrid cars are subsidized by the US too (tax breaks), if not exactly a subsidy in the strict sense it is certainly market intervention.

    There are other ways to reduce oil consumption without having to change consumer lifestyles. What about the fallacy of the 3000 mile oil change? What about using synthetic motor oils instead of regular motor oil?

    Yes, I own an SUV. And I take the bus to work. (Or am I somehow cheating by using subsidized transit?) I bought an SUV because I wanted a hatchback and at the time the only other hatchback on the market cost $4,000 more than the SUV I bought. I thought about the loss in fuel economy so I did the math and discovered it would take 19 years before I started losing money on buying a less fuel efficient car (and not adding in any value for the extra safety and utility).

    I don’t need to be demonized by some narrow-minded, unenlightened snob trying to justify their own self-interest. (Not you, the admaker.) At least you are aware of the subsidy issue, many people clamoring for reduced demand of gasoline want to raise taxes!

    To each his (or her) own. But you’ll get better mpg with a Civic HF than a Prius anyway. And you’ll have no fuel cell replacement/disposal hassles. And at this point, I’m more concerned about the terrorists who call themselves “US Representative” than I am with radical Muslims.

  6. The one problem I have with the Hybrid cars is the cost. When I was checking out cars early last year, I noticed that the cost of Toyota’s hybird was TWICE that of the Echo, around $30,000. Now maybe prices have gone down since, but I’ve always noted that it’s soooo much easier for the well to do to like Huffington be environmentally pure. Being kind to the planet is expensive to “working class” joes like myself.

  7. Whoops edition error. Here’s the revision:

    but I’ve always noted that it’s soooo much easier for the well to do like Huffington to be environmentally pure.

  8. I have heard the arguement made before that our oil is ‘subsidized’ by the defense of its supply in the middle east. While it’s certainly true that the US has spent a lot of tax money defending the middle east since the first Gulf War, it isn’t exaclty necessary to do this just for the oil. Last time I checked, there isn’t a whole lot else coming out of that part of the world, in terms of good and services. As has been pointed out, we don’t even buy all of our oil from the middle east (about 14%) but they certainly sell a significant percentage of theirs to us. They need us to buy their oil more than we need to buy it from them. I don’t think if we moved all US and UN troops out of the middle east tomorrow we’d see a significant likelyhood of long term oil shortages. They might get cranky and withold it short term now and then (like the 1973 oil embargo) but sooner or later the economic hardship will cause them to change their tune. And if it does result in some instability that will provide a market incentive for people to buy cars with better fuel efficiency.

  9. Well said, Jim. I recall, back when the 1991 war was gearing up, hearing the argument, “What if Saddam gets control of the entire Gulf oil supply?” My response-“What the fuck do I care? Is he not going to sell it just like everybody else?”-was usually so coolly received that I became convinced I must be not only wrong, but the only person dumb enough to think this way. Your post may only prove that we’re both full of shit, but it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  10. This debate on supporting terrorism seems to be missing one key item: terrorists are responsible for being evil, not us. People who own SUVs are not in any way responsible for terrorism. The collective behavior of all the SUV owners in America will not affect whether or not terrorism exists. If someone were to really trace how much money that goes into buying each barrel of oil ended up in the hands of Osama Bin Laden, it would be in the micro-pennies (yes I invented that word). Evil and terrorism exist period. There is no reason to take away someone’s freedom because they contribute .0000001% of each gallon of gas they buy to evil.

  11. Here is another issue everyone seems to miss. Middle East oil is the least expensive oil to get out of the ground anywhere in the world, by far. The practical import of this fact is that Mid East oil will be the last oil to cease production if demand drops, since high-cost producers always drop production first. So even if oil consumption drops 75%, MidEast production won’t be affected. True, the prices will drop, but it the sheikhs will still be getting most of their money, while domestic producers and other producers will all die.

  12. To paraphrase John Stewart of the Daily Show, if you drive a hybrid you’re only supporting terrorism when you drive uphill.

    If I drive an SUV 10 miles a week, am I still more responsible for terrorism than if I were to drive a fuel efficient car 100 miles a week?

    Is the boss of an SUV driver responsible for terrorism, since he/she provides the money for the driver to afford said vehicle?

    Are the people who use the services of a business that pays employees who drive SUVs responsible for terrorism as well?

    Am I, a cyclist who doesn’t drive, responsible for terrorism because I take up less space on the road, making driving conditions for SUV drivers more appealing and as a result they drive more?

  13. Brad S wrote:
    “the ads could just as easily be taking stabs at people for not riding bikes, or not using mass transit, or using a gas-powered weed eater instead of an electric one, or consuming any good that had to be transported by a vehicle powered by an internal combustion, gasoline-burning engine.”

    It’s easier to persuade someone to switch from an SUV to a more efficient vehicle, than to convince them to ride bikes or ride mass transit. Those aren’t even options for a lot of people.

    “consume any good that had to be transported by a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine”.

    Shipping companies have the profit motive to
    persuade them to transport cargo as efficiently
    as possible. UPS, I’m sure, places less importance
    on aesthetics of its vehicles than SUV buyers do.
    FedEx isn’t going to accept higher fuel costs
    and lower profits just so they can have cool
    trucks that can theoretically go off-road
    “just in case”.

    So telling people not to buy products that
    were shipped using gas-burning engines isn’t
    really necessary. The shippers will use
    the best means they have available no matter
    what the consumer does.

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