The Happy Slave

This is my surrender to the Powers that Be, who wish we all were just happy little slaves, tooling along without a care in the world, doing what our better-educated masters tell us to do, not daring to step out of line. I'm so bad at surrender...

Location: Indianapolis, United States

I'm an old-fashioned Get-out-of-my-face-atarian. So long as the gubmint left me alone, I had no problems with it. Gubmint wants to run my life, so I'm doing something about it. (Not just blogging, either.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Damned lies, statistics, and gasoline prices

Once again, we have seen claims trotted out about the cost of gasoline in "real dollars". As always, the "conclusion" is that gasoline is still super-cheap. As we already know, figures don't lie, but liars do figure. I have often wondered why it is that these claims invariably reach back more than 70 years for comparison. The reason is simple: You have to go back that far for the magic trick to work. But what happens if, instead of the typical storytelling, we instead look at the price of gasoline in terms of hours of work? After all, that is what really matters. Even if the price of something remains the same in terms of "constant dollars", it's still more expensive if you take home even less in "constant dollars" than you used to. What really matters to real Americans is how much time they have to work to be able to afford something.

My own data hasn't been force-fed to me by a political pressure group. I had to go out and get it from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so I didn't get it going back all the way to 1920. Instead, I had to make do with the average price of unleaded gasoline since 1976 and the average hourly wage for non-management workers (the backbone and soul of America). A little fourth grade math, and I get the number of minutes we have had to work for a gallon of gas, every month, since 1976. This is what really matters to ordinary people who don't get fat salary contracts. How much of my life do I have to give away just to get a gallon of gas?

The highest point since 1976 was in 1981, when we had to work over 11 minutes per gallon of gas. This was the worst part of an all-time high period from 1979-1986, when average Americans had to work more than 8 minutes per gallon of gas, with no relief. This was followed by a long period from 1986 to 2004, when we had to work 6-7 minutes per gallon.

Starting in 2004, everything went up fast, with no sign of relief. In September of 2005, we almost hit the all-time high mark, again. We had a very brief drop at the end of 2005, and now it's moving back up, just as fast as last year.

Ten to twelve minutes a gallon might not sound like much, but if you have a 20-gallon tank (like some popular vehicles currently do) that means every fill-up has cost you more than three hours of your life.

Remember that these numbers do not consider little things like income tax, which makes every hour we work that much less rewarding. If we factor those in, what we end up with is a tankful costs an American worker up to half a day's work--or more, and it looks like the price in terms of how much of our lives go out our exhaust pipes will only go up.