‘Gas outs’ yield short-term results

It’s now Feb. 1, which means we’re two weeks away from Valentine’s Day, and three months from a routine I find even more useless and frustrating.

If fuel prices start climbing again — bank on it, with people using more fuel for spring breaks and planning summer trips — get ready to see “Gas Out Day” hit your inbox or social network.

It usually goes something like this: “Gas prices are up again, it costs $30 to fill up the tank. If all 75 million U.S. Facebook users avoid the gas station on this day, it’s a $2.25 billion hit to the oil companies.”

Just because A times B equals C doesn’t mean it makes sense. It assumes every Facebook user has a car, everybody would spend that much on fuel and everybody would have gone that day anyway. Plus it’s not a huge hit, because people will just buy fuel another day.

So another May is coming around with me explaining to people again why conservation is the better solution. Thankfully, the blowback on SOPA/PIPA gives us a little time to get prepped.

Those are the acronyms for a pair of bills brought up in Congress to curb online piracy. Bill supporters say it’s too hard to police an online world, and they have every right to protect what they create and sell; opponents say it puts government weight behind entertainment industries that currently have to deal with this pesky American value called “due process.”

The bills have been shelved due to overwhelming citizen complaints, but there’s no reason to believe these bills won’t come up again with some other name (the “I Love Apple Pie, Puppies and a Piracy-Free America” Act).

Some people are getting ready with Black March — or, as I call it, “Gas Out Month.”

Here’s the process, according to black-march.com: “Do not buy a single record. Do not download a single song, legally or illegally. Do not go to see a single film in cinemas, or download a copy. Do not buy a DVD in the stores. Do not buy a videogame. Do not buy a single book or magazine. Wait the four weeks to buy them in April, see the film later, etc. Holding out for just four weeks will leave a gaping hole in the media and entertainment companies’ profits for the first quarter. An economic hit which will in turn be observed by governments worldwide as stocks and shares will blip from a large enough loss of incomes.”

It’s better than the “gas out” emails, because it avoids the numbers and goes to a simple philosophy — buy less of a product, producers make less money.

But where do you draw the line? Cut off streaming services? Turn off TVs and radios? A lot of the companies supporting SOPA/PIPA make money there too.

More importantly, it suffers from the same core problem as the “gas out,” in that you spend the money later anyway. A company’s not going to be afraid of a 10 percent quarter drop if they get an equal bounce next quarter.

Whether it’s gasoline or entertainment, short-term actions provide short-term results. In a supply-and-demand economy, the best way to hurt the suppliers is to lower your demand as long as possible — not just for a day or a month.