The cost of gasoline has skyrocketed over the past year in the United States, leaving most American consumers feeling like they're being mugged every time they visit the gas pumps.
What is really going on? Is there an international oil shortage? Are too few refineries available? Do Americans have too big of an appetite for fun and games? Are there too many large personal vehicles with only one person occupying them? Is price-
fixing the problem?
Some state governments are setting their sights on gas stations, asking them to cough up the data that show how much they pay for gas and what they charge the public. "Attorney General Jane Brady [Delaware] has announced she's sending letters to the state's 400 retail gas stations to report what they've been paying wholesale and how much they charge customers. That in itself might bring down some prices at those stations that continue to charge unreasonable prices" (www.delawareonline.com, Sept. 18).
One sure factor is greed. Oil-producing nations charge whatever they think the world market can bear. Speculators drive up prices by speculating in futures markets. Sellers at various levels take advantage of situations like shortages due to the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes to squeeze consumers. Automobile companies push bigger, more expensive vehicles on which they can make higher profits. And car buyers' decisions are often driven more by vanity than actual need. All in all, it creates a vicious—and expensive—cycle.