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The price of gasoline. It goes up. It goes down.

Over time though it inches incrementally higher. We hear about it in the news, where there is a war, or when there is some problem with the supply. We hear soundbites of the average consumer complaining about how it gets harder and harder to pay for the gas they need to get to jobs, how corners will have to be cut someplace, how people turn to cars with better fuel efficiency.

This isn’t the problem. All this focus on gas makes for an easy story in the news, something we can grasp easily, but only because the news media has never really bothered to give the true story its due.

The problems isn’t gas, it’s wages.

The amount paid at the pump only hurts because it affects people’s personal budgets. If the average salary increased with inflation the cost of gas at $4 and $5 a gallon would seem cheap. If the news media instead looked at how the inflationary costs of goods and services outpaced the earnings of the workers then maybe we would have a better understanding of the problem. And some real outrage.

News media, and especially media that focuses on business, tend to focus on the economics of business. We know the box office grosses of the latest movies, how much Apple’s stock has increased, the value of the facebook IPO but there’s never a story about how much the price of peanut butter has increased in the past year versus the average salary of a family that relies on cheap protein sources to keep kids fed. We don’t see these stories because… why? They don’t make businesses and their bottom lines looking good? Because we fear that if a business fails so does the rest of the country? Is it that important to save an auto industry that uses gasoline (two business stories that we use as gauges for understanding these economically uncertain times) that we completely ignore that we have totally lost the entire middle-income section of the economic chart?

It has always struck me that no one finds its odd there’s a Business section of the news but not a Labor section, or at the very least and Personal Economics section. I would think any media that presented itself as offering a balanced view of news would want to counter every corporate leader profile with one from the rank and file, a running tally of jobs lost against business gains, hourly versus salary.

What I think captures the attention and imagination is that gas prices fluctuate down as well as up. If there was ever better evidence of the value and pricing of a commodity within American society, gas prices would be it. But it’s subterfuge symbolism, this marker by which we are made to feel that things are either getting better or worse when, in fact, the question that should automatically come to mind when the news media talks gas prices should be:

Compared to what?

 

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