August 27, 2011
The obsession with gas prices
I have always been a little puzzled by the obsession in the US with the price of gas. From as long as I can remember, the price of gas has been reported regularly in the news, even when the prices were not fluctuating. NPR news reports on the national average of gas prices on a regular basis. Michele Bachmann has even vowed that she will bring gas prices down to $2 if she is elected president though she does not say how. (Plunge the country into a deep recession? Invade all the oil producing countries?)
Why, among all the commodities, is the price of gas singled out for special mention and monitoring?
I understand that the price of gas influences the price of other things and so is perhaps a proxy for inflation but surely the cost of living index would be a better gauge? I also understand that this is a car culture. When my mother used to write letters (remember those?) to me from Sri Lanka, she would always quote the price of bread and coconuts as indicators of the cost of living. Maybe because it was because she did not own a car and besides, gas prices in Sri Lanka were controlled by the state.
Perhaps gas is focused on here because it is perhaps the only thing that we buy regularly in isolation. When it comes to other staples like bread or milk, which would serve equally well as rough indicators of the cost of living, they are usually bought in conjunction with other groceries and so their price variations do not stand out. Also, gas stations are everywhere and they post their prices in huge signs so you cannot avoid being aware of them.
If you were ask me the price of bread or milk, I probably could not tell you even though I buy them every week. This is because I have no choice but to buy these staples and can afford to, so there seems to be no point in agonizing over their prices. But I do know the price of gas, even though the same conditions apply.