Monday, May 15, 2006

Innumeracy Still Reigns Supreme

I have argued in this blog before that Innumeracy is one of the worst things that has happened to this nation, even worse than illiteracy. It's really kind of a "pet peeve" of mine.

So here is a prime example of it, some dolt spewing phony statistics that might sound good to the average Moron-American reader, but which simply do not hold up under scrutiny.

Today my South Puget Sound outlet of the SCLM, The Olympian, carried a letter headlined Gasoline Situation isn’t so Bad After All from a local yokel who is apparently taking his talking points from some rightwing gasbag blowhard asshole (can you say "Rush Limbaugh"?).

The letter claimed that today's gas prices aren't so bad, Europeans pay much more per gallon, and that after taking into account inflation and the rise in the minimum wage, we are paying less per gallon, by about half, than we did in the gas-shortage 1970s. He also claims -- naturally without citation of a source -- that the price of gas during the so-called energy crisis was the equivalent in today's dollars of ... $7.00 per gallon!!

Well, he is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts.

It is more than disingenuous to point to those artificially-inflated gasoline price spikes of the so-called energy crisis/gas shortage of the 1970s as a base line and then claim that, after accounting for inflation and the rise of the minimum wage, today's prices are actually lower.

In fact, they are not.

According to, in October of 1973 gas was 39 cents a gallon; it hit its peak "gas shortage" price of 55 cents a gallon in July of 1974. In 2005 dollars (see the Inflation Calculator), gas leaped from $1.72 to $2.29 per gallon in just nine months.

Even at its prior historical high point, a brief spike to $1.37 per gallon at the start of the Iraq-Iran War in March of 1981, it was still only an inflation-adjusted $3.07 in today's dollars.

Neither, of course, is anywhere near that ridiculous $7.00 talking-point fantasy figure.

When I started college in the fall of 1963 gasoline was 30 cents a gallon (and even less at the off-brand stations -- remember them?). Keeping up with inflation, it ought to cost $1.83 a gallon. Instead it is nearly twice that amount.

The Federal minimum wage in 1963 was $1.25 per hour. Keeping up with inflation, it ought to be $7.64, but in 2006 it is still only $5.15.

In 1963 a minimum-wage employee had to work 14 minutes to buy a gallon of gas. Today that same employee has to work 37 minutes for that same gallon. Even in high-minimum-wage Washington State ($7.63 an hour), it now takes 25 minutes of work per gallon of gas.

When gas prices climb steadily towards $4.00 per gallon, when the chairman of Exxon-Mobil can retire with a $400 million bonus, when Big Oil profits are calculated in the billions of dollars per quarter, then it is time to impose an excess profits tax on these greedy corporations.

But thanks to our old friend Innumeracy, don't count on a groundswell of demand for that to happen.


merlallen said...

I got a letter from a support our troops type that compared Iraqi war deaths to car crashes in Detroit.
If I could have got my hands on him I would have choked him.

drainbamage said...

Gus, let me know when you do, and I will bring the tar, feathers and rod.

People who rationalize death like that should just slit their own throat and spare the rest of us the bullshit of why people have to die for worthless reasons for power hungry butt munches.