Boycott Fueled by Rising Gas Prices
Date Added: May 13, 2006
Gasoline is a commodity, and like all commodities, it's price fluctuates constantly and for often unseen reasons. Every spring, with an increase and consumption and related price hikes, comes a resurgence of Armchair Activism chains that try to get prices back down. Most of them, like this one, miss the point and try to accomplish a lot by doing very little.
Subject: RE: Gas prices
I hear we are going to hit close to $3.00 a gallon by the summer Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent, united action. Phillip Hollsworth, offered this good idea:
This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain Day" campaign that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT, whoever thought of this idea has come up with a plan that can really work.
Please read it and join with us!
By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $1.97 for regular unleaded in my town.(California) Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have Conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50- $1.75,we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace....not sellers. With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocket book that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas. But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a Price war.
Here's the idea:
For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from The two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple to do!! Now, don't wimp out on me at this point...keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!
I am sending this note to about thirty people. If each of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300)... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) ... and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers! . .
If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!
Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all. (If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician. But I am... so trust me on this one.)
How long would all that take? If each of us sends this email out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!!
I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you?
Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on.
PLEASE HOLD OUT UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES AND KEEP THEM DOWN. THIS CAN REALLY WORK. YOU KNOW THEY LOVE HOLIDAYS AND SUMMER TRAVELERS.
In April, 1999, a group of well-meaning American netizens organized the "Great Gas Out," an online campaign to get Americans to refrain from buying gas on a given day in order to let the gas companies know that we won't stand for high prices. It gained a lot of media attention but failed to make a dent in oil companies' revenue charts.
Recognizing that one day may not be enough, organizers expanded the Gas Out to three days in 2000. Again, little impact was made.
The chain letter above first surfaced in Summer, 2000, after the second Gas Out. The anonymous author reasoned the failure of previous campaigns was because Americans just can't go without getting gas - even for a couple of days. It was an instant hit, but its popularity faded as gas prices stabilized in late summer. It resurfaced when gas prices spiked again in the springs of 2001 and 2002 (when gas prices began flirting with the $2.00/gallon mark in the U.S.). The 2002 version is the one posted above.
Also, in 2002, the chain letter went international, with versions popping up in the UK and Australia. Language, measurements, currency units and oil company names were switched to their British or Australian equivalents(Esso, BP and Shell), but otherwise it was the same letter.
The attribution to "Phillip Hollsworth" also crept into the 2002 version. I have been unable to locate Mr. Hollsworth, but I do know that he did not originate this letter, as the letter predates his attribution by at least two years. He appears to have become connected through the first UK variation. Odds are, he forwarded it to some friends, resulting in yet another case of False Attribution Syndrome, wherein an "innocent" person becomes mistakenly associated with a chain letter because he or she forwarded it.
In 2008, to further bolster credibility, revisionists also added a preamble describing the source as "a retired Coca Cola executive," who apparently got the information from "one of his engineer buddies who retired from Halliburton." In other words, he received an e-mail chain letter and forwarded it on.
Predictably, this nearsighted boycott surges in popularity each spring, as nature and market trends regularly contribute to a seasonal peak in prices. It reliably resurfaced in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 practically unchanged from the 2002 version.
The pattern was slightly tilted when the letter surged in popularity again in August, 2005, as the original's prediction of $3.00 a gallon became true in the U.S. (driven mostly by the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the American gulf coast on the country's refinery capacity). Also in 2005, another chain letter surfaced proposing a big company boycott, this time targeting Chevron and Shell stations.
So, will avoiding one company's gas stations effectively and permanently drive prices down? No. In fact, it would likely have the opposite effect, if any at all. Gas is a commodity. Commodity markets work on the principle of supply and demand. When supply is higher than demand, sellers lower the price until the two factors equalize again. When demand is higher than supply, sellers raise the price to curb use and stretch supplies until, once again, the two factors equalize.
Just for the sake of argument, let's say we successfully organize the ExxonMobil boycott. ExxonMobil loses business and lowers prices to lure you back. The other stations will follow suit and lower prices to compete, right? Not quite.
This chain also ascribes way too much power to the consumer, says Barry Nielsen of Forbes Media's Investopedia.com:
"The price of gasoline is not and cannot be determined by buyers alone. The price of gasoline (like any good) is a function of both supply and demand... In the context of the gas price email, buyers do not control the price of gasoline any more than sellers do. The market will always find and equilibrium price established by the levels of both supply and demand."
Let's say to avoid ExxonMobil you go to the Speedway across the street. Speedway's business increases, causing them to raise their prices to try to control demand, otherwise their supply would be quickly depleted. Their higher prices drive customers to Shell, who in turn raise their prices and drive customers to BP, and so on. Eventually, supply and demand will equalize and all stations will have the same price again.
As Neilsen puts it:
"The economic laws of supply and demand and equilibrium pricing apply to individual companies and gas stations as well as the entire market. Therefore, regardless of the fact that the big oil station across the street might lower its prices as result of lesser demand, Station X will not decrease its prices as the email postulates because the demand for Station X's products has just increased.
"The proposition in the email does not change the aggregate level of demand in the marketplace, it simply shifts demand from one company to the next. In the long run, the larger company would sell its surplus supply (as a result of the drop in demand for its products) in wholesale crude oil and crude oil products markets. The companies experiencing the increase in demand would buy that supply, and compete among themselves to establish an equilibrium price."
As consumers, we can do little to control supply, but we can control demand. However, effectively doing so means reducing demand overall, not just at one station. The reduction in demand must be severe and long-lasting. If you want to save money at the pump, slow down on the freeway, plan outings to get everything in one trip, walk more and trade in that gas-guzzling SUV for an economical compact car for starters.
Other popular armchair activist campaigns to lower prices have called for consumers to buy only the gas they need, stick to stations that only buy fuel from domestic sources and ask the President to lower prices. The original "Gas Out" idea has also returned.
Historically, chain-letter boycott campaigns are almost always failures. Reaching people is different from getting them to participate. People will receive duplicates, some will dismiss it out of hand, some e-mails will never reach their recipients. It will take a lot more than "the sixth iteration" or "8 days" to get 300,000,000 supporters. But, since e-mail chain letters are easy to distribute, we do so, fooling ourselves into thinking we're doing a good thing. Instead, we're propagating nearly a decade's worth of Armchair Activism based on a faulty premise. Break this chain.