How Much is Democracy Worth? $3.54 and Rising


There is an undeniable connection between the rise in gas prices all over the United States and the unrest in North Africa. According to AAA, the average gas price is $3.54 per gallon and rising. That’s up $0.40 in the last 30 days and $0.80 in the last 6 months. As the weather gets warmer and more travelers take to the roads, the normal seasonal spike in prices will be coupled with an ever-increasing price on oil in the market due to the recent civil unrest in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. Nevertheless, when we take a moment to step back from our personal fiscal concerns, we will be able to see that the citizens of these countries are fighting for an ideal which our country cherishes and attempts to live up to, democracy.

How much is your right to protest worth? How much would you pay for the right to vote? What amount of money would you sacrifice for the rights that we all take for granted? If you’re like me, there is no single dollar amount that would ever suffice for the sacrifice of your democratic rights as an American citizen. If this emotional appeal does not resonate with you, consider another civil war with global economic impact, the United States’ Civil War in the 1800s.

While the typical history book emphasizes the moral implications of this war to end slavery, the economic implications cannot be ignored. Cotton production from the southern states accounted for nearly 57% of all American exports. The United Kingdom and much of Europe had become dependent on U.S. production of cotton for their ever-expanding textile industries. In essence, if you substitute cotton in the 1800s for oil today, the connection between global economic impact and civil war becomes clear. The world paid a debt for our civil unrest and for our attempt to live out the most noble ideals of “justice and liberty for all.”

While I too feel the penny-pinching at the gas pump, I recognize and celebrate the fact that the increase in gas prices is due to young people fighting for their fundamental human rights. Instead of complaining about how much more we have to pay at the pump, we should encourage President Obama to tap the United States' oil reserves, which at a press conference on Friday he agreed he will do if necessary, and we should support the people of Libya who are fighting for their lives. If any people should recognize that there is a price to pay for democracy, it is us, American citizens.

So for now, I’ll pay the rising gas prices with a smile, knowing that this is the price I must pay for other people to have access to the rights that I am so freely given.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons