Gas pains revisited

Just been flipping through the blog’s back pages and came across a post on the Amish and gasoline prices from May of last year.  Gas was around three-and-a-quarter then.  “Yikes, that’s high”, people were saying.  I guess we’re at four bucks now…

My main point on that post was that rising gas affects the Amish in a number of ways.  The Amish are plugged into the American economy and do care how much energy costs, despite what one might think at first glance.

And some care more than others.  Amish business owners speculate that it has affected them in a number of ways, including by reducing the number of free-spending vacationers visiting their shops and stores, and by upping shipping and commuting costs.

Construction and furniture-making are two of the largest ‘Amish’ industries.  With Amish furniture men shipping cross-country, and Amish builders transporting themselves, their workers and equipment up to two hours to the jobsite, it is certainly a factor.

I recently read an article in Slate magazine on the nation’s RV businesses taking a huge hit, largely due to the fuel situation.  This is undoubtedly affecting the northern Indiana economy, and the many Amish who work in the industry.  Many were already experiencing layoffs and slower times back in 2006.

Personally I think gas prices have gotten to be a tired topic.

Don’t get me wrong, filling up has become a dreaded experience for many.  Energy execs recently got their latest drubbing in front of Congress.  The execs pointed the finger right backat the politicians, blaming US energy policy for exacerbating theproblem.   It’s shaping up to be a big political issue this year, along with the housing situation and the economic slowdown.

Some perspective may be in order amongst all the hoopla.  We’ve got a way to go before we hit European levels.  And, of course, there are worse things to be dealing with in life.

Growth is good and desired and to be expected, but markets change and tougher times do come around.  Yet our economic history shows that hard times are the exception rather than the rule.

I’m also reminded of some wisdom a few Amish entrepreneurs shared recently while researching my upcoming book.  On more than one occasion the point was made that businesspeople actually need the tough times, as it helps them become better at operating their companies.  It teaches you to ‘sharpen your pencil’ and get on top of the little things that get overlooked when business is booming.

Perhaps the same could be said about individuals needing the occasional tough times as well.  Though ‘tough times’ are relative, and if $4-a-gallon gas, or $5 for that matter, is the biggest problem on your mind, you are doing okay, if I can be forgiven for saying so.

This is not a political blog, and I fear I’ve been veering dangerously in that direction(!), so let’s get back to the Amish for the finish.  Sorry for the departure.

Even if you are not an Amish entrepreneur, gas prices matter.  Many Amish hire what are known as Amish taxis for trips to the store–costing for example $25 for an 8-mile round trip, according to this article on an Amish couple near Altoona, Pennsylvania.  The couple are considering hitching up and taking the buggy instead, despite the less-than-safe road conditions.

I’ve got a couple of other reasons why the Amish care about fuel prices on last year’s post, if you’re interested.  Good to keep in mind when you read anything about the Amish being isolated from the outside world.  Culturally, maybe.  But economically?  Hardly.

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    1. OldKat'77

      Amish America Quote:
      Good to keep in mind when you read anything about the Amish being isolated from the outside world. Culturally, maybe. But economically? Hardly.

      OldKat’77 said:
      You are correct about this. When I was talking with the John, the Amish truck farmer / horse trainer that trained my driving horses, we started discussing high diesel prices. At first I was surprised that he even cared, but he reminded me that he used diesel to run his irrigation engine.

      At one time I worked on the natural gas trading floor for what was then the largest domestic producer of natural gas. Because of that I can sometimes get a little too technical when discussing market signals with anyone. Since I am aware of this, I was trying to be very simplistic with John. Then he started mentioning some aspects of the whole situation that were, in fact, fairly technical. When I mentioned that I was suprised that he was that attuned to the issue he said; “Well, we try not to be too ignorant of what is going on”. Ignorant he is NOT! He is a very well informed and astute individual. I was wondering how common that is in the Amish community.

    2. I think we too often believe the amish are totally isolated when they aren’t. The economy affects them just as well as it does the rest of the world. It is sure to pinch them a bit with fewer people traveling and as you said the higher cost of shipping goods. The amish are seperate from the modern world, not immune from all the economic effects!

    3. I was thinking about this very question today when I was riding through Topeka, Indiana. That place has had a big RV industry, and I wondered how the changes have affected Amish employment. I did notice that the RV industry hasn’t disappeared altogether. Several pickups towing RVs were on the road with me. But I didn’t see the acres of new RVs that I used to see on the west end of Topeka.

    4. I also wonder to what extent the Amish grow feed for their horses vs growing their own. The increase in grain prices (not unrelated to the cost of fuel) could be hurting more than helping them in some cases.

    5. Hilly areas for biking--northern Indiana Amish country

      Spokesrider you’ve made me a bit jealous riding through that beautiful country–The southern and northern sides of the settlement get a bit hilly in places unlike most of the area as I’m sure you know–I particularly like those parts–I also love the east side of the settlement, once you get past Emma town…on the whole it’s one of my favorite Amish communities to visit. And I imagine it’s probably a lot easier riding the flat grid-layout of the roads than say the serpentine gravel lanes in much of Holmes County. And interesting to hear the first-hand observation on RVs.

      On grain I am no expert, I know a lot like to let them graze if they’ve got the land, but you’ve got to have the land, and I don’t think it works too well in the winter…

      OldKat I think you find a lot of street smarts among the Amish. Love the comment he made on not being ignorant, I think that hits the nail on the head–especially if it is an issue that is relevant to their lives.

      Michelle I agree and I think they were much more isolated when they were largely farmers. Now with many more Amish in business and factory work, they have inevitably opened up. When you see Amish kids bouncing on trampolines and playing hand-held video games, it makes you think twice about the popular idea of the Amish. Though of course you won’t find those devices everywhere…

    6. Dave Carrig

      Been a long time since I checked out the blog – glad to see its still going strong and that you’ve picked up a few more readers along the way.

      No argument from me that gas prices are affecting the Amish but I believe that ultimately they are more equipped to handle an energy crisis than us “english” are and should the economy continue to crumble the way it is I think they’ll be more equipped to handle that as well. The bottom line – they don’t depend on the “essentials” of the world like the rest of us do and ultimately that means they would be more ready for a crash in the economy than the rest of us. Just my opinion – and I hope we don’t have to find out!

    7. Dave great to see you back! Still having fun here at the blog.

      I agree, hope that scenario won’t be tested anytime soon!