It may as well be in the Constitution that Americans have an unalienable right to fill up their gas-guzzling automobiles cheaply. This is why it’s such a shock to the system when fuel prices in the U.S. slide toward those of most other Western countries, as is happening right now.
Gas surged to its highest price since 2008 over the weekend (not adjusting for inflation), hitting an average of more than $4 a gallon nationwide. In California, the average price was well over $5 a gallon.
The cost of gas had already surged past usual levels recently, thanks in part to similar supply-and-demand factors that have boosted prices in most sectors of the economy. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turbocharged the trend, driving up prices more than 11 percent in a week. As CNBC notes, the cost of oil accounts for more than half of the cost of gas for drivers. And oil prices have spiked to their highest level since 2008, in part because many Western buyers are choosing to stay away from Russian oil, even though they are still legally able to purchase it.
Banning all Russian gas and oil imports, one of the few major economic punishments the West hasn’t inflicted on the country, would presumably have an even more dramatic effect. And talk of doing so has already caused oil prices to jump further.
Besides being a major hindrance for the large majority of Americans who drive gas-powered cars, the surging prices — more outwardly visible than most other markers of inflation — constitute a serious political headache for President Joe Biden. In his State of the Union speech last week, Biden obliquely warned that Americans might have to sacrifice in the short term. “To all Americans, I will be honest with you, as I’ve always promised I would be,” he said. “A Russian dictator invading a foreign country has costs around the world.” Biden also said he would release 30 million barrels of oil from the government’s strategic reserve in an effort to bring down gas prices, a move that does not appear to have had an effect yet.