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Gas price trend is friendly, for now

Enjoy the respite while it lasts

By The Mercury

Anyone who puts gas in an auto (or a lawnmower) knows that gas prices have been drifting downward, the curious spike in Manhattan’s prices last week notwithstanding.

The trend, while welcome, would be more enjoyable if it weren’t a sign that the economy — in this country and elsewhere — is struggling anew.

The simple fact is that demand for gas is easing, underscoring a basic economic principle. Oil, which had been about $100 a barrel not so long ago, recently slipped to below $80 a barrel, about as low as it’s been since last fall. If the world’s economy were booming, demand for oil would be higher — and so would gas prices.

Another key factor in gas prices is tension in the Middle East. Oddly, conflict that has escalated into a civil war in Syria and lingering tension about Iran’s nuclear weapons program have had little direct impact on gas prices recently.

That is good news for the millions of American households that rely on automobiles for everything from daily errands to weekend visits and longer vacations. Not only have warnings of $4- or even $5-per-gallon gas this summer not come to pass, but Americans are now being told that prices could drop to $3 per gallon this fall.

The fact that $3-per-gallon gas sounds like a good deal is a fair indication that Americans have pretty much bade farewell to gas at prices that Newt Gingrich promised when he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. If $2.50 a gallon is wishful thinking, the $1 or less that people of a certain age once paid is pure fantasy.

Still, every dollar we don’t put into our gas tanks is a dollar we can spend on something else. A vacation, whether to visit a site elsewhere in Kansas or a neighboring state, becomes a little more affordable. Or the extra money can be put aside for back-to-school expenses. Like the school year itself, those costs have a way of sneaking up on the calendar. Or we can add the savings to the sum we’re keeping for the proverbial rainy day. Some analysts have estimated that on a national scale, the savings could exceed $100 billion. That’s serious money.

The respite is temporary, so enjoy it while it lasts.

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