small change = no change

May 3, 2008 by

In high school I had a friend named Craig whose dad owned a race car– a stripped down, souped-up stock car, used for racing on dirt tracks such as the one we frequented in Belleville, IL. I used to go along with Craig and hang out in the pit with the crew members and ride along on the warm-up laps (and even drove the warm-up around the track myself once or twice, what fun!).

Between the short races there would be exciting features to keep the crowd occupied, such as human cannonballs, fireworks exhibitions, and the like. One of the most interesting activities to observe, at least to me, was called “The Dash for Cash.” This was a game in which all the children in the audience would be called to come and gather down on the dirt track. The officiant would produce a canvas currency bag of coins, scattering them across a small area of the track. Then, when the whistle blew, all the kids would make a mad scramble to pick up every bit of small change they could possibly grab. Picture a group of children, already half-crazed from the speedway excitement and an overload of sugary concessions, adorned with ketchup and mustard and the sticky remnants of cotton candy, scrabbling around like some kind of Lord of the Flies extravaganza in the dun-colored dust, clawing and snatching and shoving and groping for pennies and nickels and dimes and the occasional windfall quarter, emerging utterly befouled with dirt, clothes ruined, hair matted with dust, rings of filth around sticky shiny mouths, clutching a couple pocketfuls of hard-won small change.

Suddenly, the gas tax holiday plan springs to mind.

Do its proponents think we’re that immature? That desperate? So infested with the incessant need for instant gratification that we actually believe this is going to do any good?

More importantly, is it worth the resulting drain on our already-imperiled infrastructure? As I understand it, that money goes to fund highway and bridge repair, through direct programs and matching funds for municipalities. Given the notoriously bad state of streets and highways in and around New Orleans, this seems like a ridiculous gimmick to make people think they are getting a “break”- a few dollars here and there on a tank of gas. Yet somehow, three dollars a tank doesn’t seem like much when you just spent $400.00 to repair the suspension on your car, yet AGAIN.

Working-class Americans deserve better than such a pathetic, insulting sop to the current financial squeeze.

Just as a side note, Exxon Mobil reported a $1.7 BILLION profit [Editor’s Note: CNNMoney reports this number as $10.9 Billion according to our commenter Alli. See Comments below. -Loki] in the first quarter of 2008; the highest quarterly profits for a U.S. company in history. And most of the so-called “relief” of a tax holiday will just be sucked up by the refinery divisions of such companies, minimizing the actual benefit to the consumer.

In light of those considerations, getting back a few cents at the gas pump makes me feel like, I don’t know, a grimy kid who just had to wallow around in the dirt, fighting off the other brats, for whatever bits of change those who really run the game deign to throw on the ground.


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