Gas Prices in Days Past

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A meme on Facebook shows a photograph of gasoline prices from a past era with the caption: “Gas prices like this would be a nice gift.” This seems to be another in a series of posts longing for a past when life — purportedly — was better. Let’s examine this message.

To date the meme, the car that appears to be the latest model looks to be from around 1960, so let’s say this photograph is from December 1960 (the War on Christmas messaging gives a clue to the month).

In December 1960 the Consumer Price Index was 29.81.(1)BLS series CUSR0000SA0, All items in U.S. city average, all urban consumers, seasonally adjusted, 1982-84=100 In October 2023, the value is 307.619. So adjusted for inflation, the $0.309 gas price shown in the photo would be 307.619 / 29.81 * 0.309 = $3.19. (The other two prices would be equivalent to $3.39 and $3.60.)

As of November 27, 2023, gasoline is $3.088 per gallon. (2)U.S. Energy Information Administration, series EMM_EPMRU_PTE_NUS_DPG, Weekly U.S. Regular Conventional Retail Gasoline Prices, Dollars per Gallon So right away, the message in the meme fails: Adjusted for inflation, gasoline is cheaper today than what is shown in this photograph.

Additionally: In 1960, fuel consumption was 14.3 miles per gallon of gasoline.(3)U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review Table 1.8 column Light-Duty Vehicles, Short Wheelbase Fuel Economy. In 2021, the value was 25.0. Each gallon of gasoline is much more useful today, propelling a car an additional 10.7 miles, which is 75 percent farther.

Not only is gasoline cheaper today (in inflation-adjusted terms) than in 1960, a gallon takes us much farther. And, this gasoline fuels cars that are much nicer and safer than in 1960.

References

References
1 BLS series CUSR0000SA0, All items in U.S. city average, all urban consumers, seasonally adjusted, 1982-84=100
2 U.S. Energy Information Administration, series EMM_EPMRU_PTE_NUS_DPG, Weekly U.S. Regular Conventional Retail Gasoline Prices, Dollars per Gallon
3 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review Table 1.8 column Light-Duty Vehicles, Short Wheelbase Fuel Economy.

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