Spend a dollar, save a nation

Pull up a chair, young 'un, and listen about the days of darkness.

Back in the '73 it was, long before you can remember, laddie, and things were bad, very bad.

How bad was it?

Why, most every day, we had to wait in line at the gas station, and that was after waiting in line at the bank to borrow money just for a fill-up.

Yessiree bob, gasoline was mighty dear.

Sometimes you'd see a big ol' Caddy pull up to the pumps, and some fella in a fancy suit would stand there sobbing as he filled 'er up with the low octane. Cheap stuff. Couldn't afford a full tank of premium. Sad.

The most powerful men on earth lived in the Mideast and turned the rest of us into a bunch of whimpering gasaholics.

Remember those days?

A friend of mine was a teenager at the time and remembers, while waiting in a gas line, reading about Arab oil sheiks so rich they threw away clothing after one wearing. He was aghast.

Now, that same friend routinely pulls his four-cylinder, Japanese subcompact up to the high-octane pump. Just for the heck of it.

Oil prices have hit ridiculously low levels, near $10 a barrel, and if there's an expert predicting they're headed higher, sooner, he's a very lonely fellow.

This is bad news for US companies that produce oil. They generally need oil prices in the upper teens to break even.

But it's great news for the American consumer.

In fact, there's probably never been a better time to be an American consumer.

It seemed that way about a year ago, yet times have recently taken

a turn for the better.

Interest rates are falling. Inflation has moved even lower. Oil prices have tumbled down a well. The stock market has found the accelerator again, and economic problems in much of the world mean lower prices for many consumer products.

And what economic policymakers around the world hope you will do is take all the savings from cheap gasoline and cheap mortgages and go park yourself in some long line at some cash register at some nearby mall.

Go forth and spend. The world needs you.

Your spending will not only keep the US economy buoyant but will help stabilize a choppy world economy.

So have a spree, have a ball, and help put Malaysia back on its feet all at the same time.

Ironically, those cheap gasoline prices have helped bring a fragment of US business history full circle.

At the turn of the century, John D. Rockefeller created the Standard Oil trust because there was too much competition and a glut of crude coming out of the oil fields in Pennsylvania - home to the nation's oil supplies .

Prices were too cheap for oil companies to make a buck. So Mr. Rockefeller eliminated the competition. He bought most other US oil producers.

In 1911, Teddy Roosevelt's trust busters eliminated the Standard Oil trust, persuading the US Supreme Court to spin off Standard Oil of New York (now Mobil), Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon), and others.

And here we are again - with so much competition and such a glut of crude that oil companies have a hard time making a buck.

So now Exxon and Mobil are planning to re-merge to eliminate some of the competition.

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