AS A WAY to squander oil wealth, the Alaskan method is at least harmless. The Alaska state government is giving $1,000 to every resident, including children. It will cost a little under half a billion dollars, a modest amount by the standards of the oil world. Alaskan production is currently greater than that of all but two or three of the OPEC countries. Unlike a couple of the Persian Gulf oil producers, Alaska isn't using the money to go to war with its neighbors. It isn't buying jet fighters and AWACS planes. It isn't even using the money to build state-owned refineries and petrochemical plants in a world that already has too many of them. It's just mailing out checks.

The contrast invites reflection: in happy Alaska people are now trying to decide what to do with their checks, while in many states, particularly in the industrial Midwest, soup kitchens are in operation. For some time, Alaska has had the highest income per capita of any state. Last year, it was $14,090, compared with the American average of $10,520. The rich get richer, and so forth.

If nothing else, the Alaskans' good fortune is a reminder that the revolution in oil prices over the past decade has had highly diverse effects from one region to another. Most of the conventional economic analysis speaks only of the impact on the country as a whole, but the national figures are broad averages that conceal important disparities. Among Americans, the costs of the higher oil prices have fallen most heavily on those who earned their livings, directly or indirectly, in the automobile industry. Some of those people are now in desperate straits, while in the richest of the oil states there's literally money to give away. That's not a bad reason, incidentally, to keep a stiff federal tax on oil production.