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From the Gas Pump to the White House

Growing up poor gives one certain insights that might be unavailable to more well off people. Well off children don’t hang out at gas stations, at least in my experience. They certainly don’t work at gas stations. They don’t have friends who pump gas. And they probably don’t think about or notice gas prices. Although I’ve never worked at a gas station, I have spent many afternoons and evenings in the Mini Marts, the Seven Elevens and Clark stations. I’ve waited, sometimes with a car on fumes, for the gas price to drop a few cents, a habit I have kept to this day, much to the chagrin of my wife and other passengers in my car. The tension when my low fuel light is on and I’m driving conservatively, passing gas station after gas station, because I know the Love’s 20 miles up the road is going to have cheaper gas is palpable. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll make it. My passengers KNOW I’m not going to make it. It’s fun.

Where is he going with all this I can hear you think. Well, it’s simple. I know how gas prices move. The futures market traders think they know, and maybe at their level they do, but if so, why are they still working? I know how the price goes up a penny, down a nickel, and so on. It’s collusion. Not actionable collusion, but collusion none the less. It’s collusion by market signal. There is no meeting in a darkened room, full of cigar smoke, to set the price. That would be illegal. It’s much easier to just set some rules, make some suggestions, and have everything sort itself out. Here’s how it works.

You’re Shell. You have positioned your product as a premium product, so you set your rules, at the station level, if anyone raises their price, you raise yours so that you’re a penny more expensive. If you’re cheaper than the competition, you’ll lose business. Counter intuitive, yes. But it works. Shell’s customers are brand loyal, or credit card dependent. (Shell made bank on gas cards when I was growing up. I don’t have a gas card any more, or an individual store credit card for that matter, but I assume they still exist.)

Now let’s say you’re Clark Oil. Your rules are if two stores go up, you match the raise, if one goes down you match that. You don’t want to be lower than everyone else for three reasons. First, if you stay low, you’ll be flooded with business. That’s OK in the short term, but the attendant doesn’t want to work that hard, and the owner doesn’t want to hire for something that is going to be temporary in nature. Second, you will force the competition down, which will keep them from working with you. Third, if you’re selling at a lower price you’re making less money. Obvious, I know, but I’m trying to be thorough. When I said the competition won’t work with you I meant it. You have the numbers of all the other local stations behind the counter. When you’re not busy you call them up and ask them what they’re selling gas for. And they tell you. Sometimes, they even tell you their plans. This sounds like collusion, but it happens at the local level, perpetrated by gas station attendants, and they’re not making a penny off the price of gas. They make (made back then) $3.75 an hour, $5 an hour if they were lucky. This information just makes their job easier.

We could discuss other companies, but suffice it to say they have a system in place that causes gasoline prices to move together. Perhaps there is a ‘prime mover’ that causes the original move, or maybe it’s different each time. But it doesn’t really matter. The job gets done. What on earth does that have to do with the White House? I know. It’s non-obvious. If it were obvious, some well to do Harvard graduate would have noticed. And perhaps they have. Enough ‘gas station loiterers’ have noticed. So, what do they see?

The proud association of sometimes less educated, sometimes referred to as deplorables, or bitter clingers, have seen that the political landscape being rigged just as surely as the gasoline prices. It’s easy to point to major events as collusion. The five most important counties in the country shutting down their voting machines at the same time, then coming back on line with all five counties flipped resoundingly from Trump To Biden. The voting machines that seem to have infrequent, occasional errors, always in Biden’s favor. Just the voting irregularities could go on for thousands of words, but let’s move on from voting altogether.

On social media, if you have a conservative opinion, or fact, or meme, or even legitimate hate speech, you get censored. Liberals do not. This happens on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Do they call each other up? Probably. But they’re not colluding. They just agree. And they stand to make less money if they alienate 33-50% of their audience. I don’t think it can be collusion for a business to conspire to lose customers. Maybe it can. That’s a question for another day. If someone dares to create a new social network they try, as best as they are able to shut it down, discredit it, or get it regulated out of existence. No opinion but theirs gets the light of day.

On dictionary.com the definitions of words are changed. Court packing was changed so that the phrase could be weaponized against Trump and then actual court packing (as it was originally defined) can be accomplished without protest once Biden-Harris take over. The phrase sexual preference had the same thing happen after Amy Coney Barrett used it in her confirmation hearing. Did they call up Facebook, or even the degenerate from Hawaii that tried to upbraid her for using the term? Nope. Didn’t need to. They saw the news, and changed the price. That’s all.

In schools and libraries across America we have Drag Queen Story Hour. The purpose of this is to normalize the ideas of cross dressing, homosexuality, and anything goes sex. Maybe these are great things. I don’t know. I don’t care. But I wouldn’t expose a five year old to sexual ideas of any kind. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but most of this center-right country agrees with me. But who organized the Drag Queens? George Soros? Unlikely. They just did it. They saw a piece they could do to move the needle in the direction they prefer.

I think those examples are enough to make the point. Just to spell it out, maybe there are huge ominous forces at work. But maybe people are just noticing the gas price changing, and adjusting on their own. That’s how markets work. One final thought, in case it’s not obvious. It need not be that the great majority of people are for these changes. It’s not that everyone is part of the price setting, or political mood setting. It’s just a few. Acting in concert, but independently, working towards a common goal. In my home town, specifically in the area I lived, worked, and tracked gas prices, there were about a hundred people who controlled it, and ten thousand who were harmed or benefited from it. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Ask yourself, has the world changed? If you think so, do you think it’s just possible that a small group could be driving that change?

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