Opening an article with the question, "how much does gas cost?" seems like it requires a fairly straightforward answer. You could hop in your car, drive to the nearest gas station and answer it in no time. Similarly, you could hit up the site GasBuddy and find an answer even quicker. Using either of those methods, you'll come back with an answer somewhere near $2.79 in the U.S. today. Though the answer may seem right, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argues otherwise.

Klein writes that $2.79 is not even remotely close to the "real" cost of gas. If you add in the cost of things associated with gasoline, then the true gas price would simply blow you away. Klein writes:
It's not just catastrophic spills and dramatic disruptions in the Middle East that add to the price. Gasoline has so many hidden costs...Topping that list is air pollution. Then there's climate change, which is difficult to slap a price tag on because it involves such esoteric calculations as how much your grandchild's climate is worth. There's traffic congestion and accidents, which harm drivers and non-drivers alike.

Of course, the list goes on and on (even though vehicles that don't use any gas can also get into traffic jams). Studies have been conducted to determine the "real" cost of gasoline and Ian Parry of Resources for the Future put together some calculations that give an idea of what gas actually costs. It's really just an estimate, but Parry suggests that adding all of the quantifiable costs would raise gas prices by $1.65 a gallon, but that estimation only includes costs that can be easily tracked and assigned a dollar figure. As Klein argues:

That, however, is almost certainly an underestimation. There are plenty of costs that we just don't know how to put a price on. How much of our military policy is dictated by our need for secure oil resources? How much instability is created by our need to treat oil-producing monarchies such as Saudi Arabia with kid gloves? Or take the spill in the gulf. What's the economic value of a whale? Of a pelican? Of plankton? The nation's been horrified by the photographs of oil-soaked wildlife, but how much is not being horrified actually worth to us?

So what does gas "really" cost? We may never know, but slapping a dollar sign in front of some numbers certainly overlooks the true cost.

[Source: Washington Post | Image: The U.S. Army - C.C. License 2.0]


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