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The Issue of Gas Prices: Complainers vs. Complainers

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Just like any major media issue in this country, the issue of gasoline prices has two sides: those who complain about the prices, and those who complain about the complainers.

The facts support both sides of the argument. Simply, gas prices have increased sharply over the past few years, but are still less than prices from other countries and less than the highest “inflation-adjusted” price of gas in the United States. However, when it comes to gas prices, inflation is statistically irrelevant. The consumer price index figure purposefully excludes energy prices in order to keep the figure low.

Since the invention of the passenger car, society in this country has modeled itself around cheap gas. This encouraged a huge economic boom and the feasibility of suburban living. Also, we have developed into a country with a huge reliance on cheap, available gasoline.

gas pumpAlso contributing to price increases is the devaluation of this country’s currency. The dollar is at its lowest point against the euro so more dollars are needed to pay for commodities that are priced for a global community.

So are people justified in complaining about gas prices at the pump?

I say yes, but it’s going to take more than complaining to do anything about it. Complaining may lead to a shift in political sentiment, which might help in the short term, but I don’t see how American society can significantly decrease the demand for oil without a catastrophic event after which society is turned on its head. Alternative fuels are another short term solution, and may reduce the demand for oil, but this demand will just be shifted elsewhere.

What if everyone worked from home, eliminating all commutation except for pleasure? I don’t think a society of shut-ins would be the best way for the economy to survive.

Just like everyone, I don’t like paying $30 to fill up my Honda Civic’s tank when I used to be able to do the same for $12 to $15 only a few years ago. Sure, I even complain about it to other people if the topic heads in that direction. But what can I do? I could move to the Middle East where gas is cheaper… but currency valuations might swing the other way.

Photo credit: ♥ellie♥

Updated December 20, 2011 and originally published July 13, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jason

“I could move to Europe where gas is cheaper”

Since when? Gas prices in Europe have consistantly been higher than in the United States due to the much higher gasoline taxes imposed by European governments. You can even look at our neighbor to the north and see their prices are higher. GasBuddy.com shows C$1.099 a liter which when converted to gallons and using the current exchange rate would be US$3.97 a gallon.

People complain about gas because they are conditioned to by the media. Think about the start of the summer driving season each year and you will realize that the media runs the “gas prices are on the rise” brand of stories every year. It doesn’t help that the Nielson May rating season conincided so well.

When you consider that people often believe that a gallon of $3.50 gas is more expensive than bottled water (20 oz @ US$0.99 = US$6.34/gallon) is shows just how skewed people’s view of gasoline prices are.

Both sides of the arguement have been shaped by the media and to some extent the resurgence of socialist (not Marxist) ideals concerning the role, effect, and responsibility of corporations. In short, both complainers and complainers about complainers need to examine their assumptions and motivations.

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avatar slow down

ok if every one is so mad about fuel prices . why do most folks on the free way blow by me at 75 – 80 mph . its 65 mph here in ohio and i only go 55 mph to save on fuel . and i get alot of dirty looks and im always in the slow lane, if we would all slow down to 55 mph maybe we would not consume so much fuel and the prices will drop . i think fuel prices will need to go to 10 bucks a gallon then we will slow way down . its 3.79 a gallon here in ohio and most are still driving 80 mph WAKE UP PEOPLE

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Jason: Sorry, I meant the Middle East. (I’ll fix that in the post.) I did mention earlier in the post that gas prices in the United States are relatively lower than most other countries. When the value of the dollar is going down and gas prices in USD are going up, we’re really paying about the same in global economic terms, but we live in local economies, so we don’t see that.

The media is complicit, running the same stories every year, and perhaps creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of expectations.

But… Why would a comparison between the price of a gallon of gas and the price a gallon of bottled water be relevant? It’s like comparing the price of a computer with the price of a cardboard box. Water and gasoline go through entirely different processes to end up in the consumer’s gas tank or mouth… and hopefully the right fluid goes to the right place.

The only comparison that matters to people living everyday lives is the price of gasoline today versus the price of gasoline yesterday. Budgets are made, lives are lived, and decisions are made based on yesterday’s price. That’s why people complain.

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avatar maxconfus

People complain about gas prices in the US because they have been conditioned to believe that the happy-suburban-motoring lifestyle of the last 40 years is a sustainable reality.

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avatar Ian @ FamilyFinanceBlog

I’m more of a complainer about the complainers. Regardless of how much gas costs, I believe I am responsible for how I set my life up to be dependent or not dependent on gas. Currently I work 30 miles from home, so I am very dependent on gas, but that is a choice I made. I used to work 5 miles from home where I could bike to work, but I chose a different job.

I didn’t agree with too many of the things Ross Perot said, but his 50 cents a gallon tax on gas to go to alternative energy research always seemed like a good idea to me. Wired also ran an article a couple years back saying why $5 a gallon gas is good for America (mostly because it spurs research into alternatives.)

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avatar dong

While I generally too complain about the complainers, so much of this country is designed on way to depend on cars and lots of driving. I’m lucky that I live in area where I have do very little driving, but if I lived somewhere else that wouldn’t be the case. And as much as you can say, “go ahead and move.”, it’s not like NYC city could take all the people coming from the south and midwest. Fundamentally as country we need to accept high fuel prices are going to a fact of life, and shift how we think of urban/suburban design.

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avatar Jason

Flexo: Honestly the comparison between water and gasoline is completely irrelevant, but it is the most conditioned comparison that the media uses. It also shows the skewed view of quantity and money that many people hold.

Further, if budgets are made, lives are lived, and decision decided based on yesterday’s price of a volitile commodity, shouldn’t we examine that as a problem rather then the volitility of the commodity?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Jason: I agree. There wasn’t much volatility between the early eighties or late seventies and 1997, so during that time period, “yesterday’s” price was not too far from “today’s.” Perhaps society shouldn’t have expected that to continue. Here are actual gas prices paid by one person. Here are the national averages.

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avatar Robin
avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Robin: In theory, I agree. But so far, gas has proven to be demand inelastic — people will still require it no matter the price. Sure, I’ve heard that people are buying fewer trucks and Ford’s not happy about that, but practical alternative energy is still a joke… and its creation is generally reliant on oil.

So the question is how high does the price have to be before society starts adapting their lifestyle en masse? I’m not talking about the little changes, like CFL lightbulbs and energy-efficient refrigerators. We’re talking rebuilding society around reduced commutation and building usable public transportation systems in cities other than New York.

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avatar Eric

Gas prices are going no where but up and the sooner people realize that the better. (As a side note, I think I’d classify myself as a complainer about complainers.)

From Coffeyville, KS to Nigerian violence to sinking production in Mexico, it’s an ugly picture. If you want a source that follows the end of cheap oil, check out theoildrum.com. No affiliation, (honest!), these guys just do a great job of collecting info on the oil markets and such.

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avatar mbhunter

Currency valuations are part of the picture and oil supply is another part. People will cut back on gas eventually. We’re running out of oil. We may have already past the global peak of oil production and not realized it.

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avatar Telemill

If we hadn’t gone for the hokey-doke we wouldn’t be in this predicament.

A few years ago, we had some friends who were trying to convince us to move 1.5 hours from our place of employment. That’s right 90 minutes (with NO traffic), because the houses were bigger and more affordable an hour and a half away.

My mind instantly began listing why one wouldn’t do such a thing:
1. What if the car broke down (no public transportation can get me to work)
2. What if gas went up to $5.00 a gallon – a fifth of each hour would go to gas!
3. What if something happened to my kid ALL the way back by the house (where the kid goes to school) and it would take me an hour and a half to get to them?
4. What if half-way to work, I realize I forgot some important paperwork?
5. What if I work over-time four or five hours, I would be back at work the next day in “what” six hours?

Is a nice house in a good neighborhood worth all that stress? For my life, it wasn’t. But we know people that commute 2.5 hours ONE WAY . . . yes, ONE WAY to get to work. Can you imagine how much GAS they are using? And boy, do they complain about the price of gas. But, really it’s their own fault.

And it’s all because we subscribed to the dream . . . the big house, the good neighborhood, the ridiculously huge gas bill. Boy are we suckers or what?

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avatar Choobro

I’m with you Telemill. People often create the situations that they complain about in their lives.
For example. I lived 1 hour away from my high school. I left my house at 6 am. I would return home at around 9 pm after sports practice and doing my homework at school. Traffic was terrible, gas wasnt that expensive relative to now, but plenty of people still complained and most of the kids who went to my school constantly called me and my parents idiots for commuting that far. The thing is, when my parents and I made the decision for me to attend that school we weighed in the price of fuel, and its potential for increasing in price. The main problem is when most people complain about spending so much of their income on fuel they dont realize that they had the chance to hedge their risk against the costs. They complain like they are prisoners to the increase in price and have never had an escape. GIVE ME A BREAK.

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avatar BRYON

why are gas prices so high? Is there
something being done about it right now
there are a lot of people complaining
about gas prices thanks BRYON

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avatar slow down

NO NOTHING WILL BE DONE AS LONG AS WE HAVE THESE PEOPLE GOING DOWN THE FREEWAY AT 90 MPH THE PRICES WILL RISE AND RISE EVERYONE WANTS TO COMPLAIN. BUT EVERYONE SEEMS TO WANT TO BLOW BY ME ON THE FREEWAY SEEMS LIKE. IF WE ALL DROVE 55 MPH AT THE MAX, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH FUEL WE WOULD NOT CONSUME IN JUST 1 DAY.

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avatar vb

Gas prices don’t need to be that high. The rich oil companies are making billions while poor people got to scrap together money to put gas in their vehicles or have none. I hope god gives them their dues, and brings them and their riches down to the ground. Everyone say yea to bringing on the electric car. that’ll do it

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