Gas prices are the same as they were in 1918

In real dollars adjusted for inflation, that is.

Here’s an interesting statement on Quora from oil company engineer Ryan Carlyle, in response to the question: What could the Obama Administration have done differently to prevent the cost of gasoline from increasing by nearly 2x since January 2009?

Carlyle’s answer:

Absolutely nothing.

Presidents don’t decide how much gasoline costs. It is a very broad commodity market that is completely priced by supply & demand. Nor do national energy policies have much effect within the timeframe of a single presidential term – it takes years to bring new oil supplies to market or shift usage patterns. For that matter, almost all budgetary and economic changes that happen in the first 1-2 years of a president’s term were caused by their predecessor! This causes a lot of misconceptions about presidential effectiveness. (Did you know almost every cent of spending increases under the Obama Administration was enacted under Bush? Neither party wants to talk about that.)

Please don’t take this as defending Obama’s policy decisions. I was severely disappointed by his handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – the moratorium kicked the Gulf Coast while it was down – but it would be factually incorrect to claim he had anything to do with high gasoline prices.

Looking at the chart of real gas prices below. Which presidents seem to have had an impact on gasoline prices?


The largest rise in US history occurred under the “oil-friendly” president, George W. Bush. Most of the profits from high oil prices go to petrostates such as Saudi Arabia,Venezuela, and Iran – I promise you Bush was not trying to enrich those countries in the post-9/11 world. Simple fact is, presidents cannot control the oil price. Attempts to do so (for example price controls enacted under Richard Nixon in 1973) disastrously backfire by creating supply shortages.

The US already has the lowest non-subsidized gasoline prices of any developed nation. For prices to go any lower we would have to follow the populist policies of the likes of Hugo Chávez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and subsidize gasoline. This, aside from being terrible energy policy, is a fairly bold-faced way of bribing the poor into voting for the incumbent. In my book, the less the president tries to change energy prices, the better.


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