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I wish gasoline prices were tied to an actual demand and supply equation rather than fear.

Last night, on the way home from work, I drove past the service station I generally use. The gas price at that time was $3.11 (9). An hour later I drove past it again to visit a friend and deliver a package to her. The gas price at that time was $3.29 (9).

There's been no oil refinery fires, no storms sinking oil platforms, no disasters that would suddenly make gasoline scarce and to drive the price up so fast so suddenly.

Fear did it.

I don't know precisely what they are afraid of, but it's fear dictating the gasoline prices, not demand.

I know this because the prices have fluctuated with wild abandon this week, rising and falling far too rapidly for demand to be a factor in the cost. Prices have ranged from $2.98 (9) to $3.58(9) this week alone.

Some of the prices are gouging, which is now illegal in this state, and when the station is caught, the price plummets as fast as it rose. It stays there long enough to satisfy the law, and then it skyrockets until they get caught again.

Right now, by law (and this law was in place well before 2001), gas stations (and all other retailers, it turns out) must mark their prices as no less than 6¢ above wholesale price, so everyone is guaranteed at least 6¢ "profit" on each item sold.  There is no theoretical maximum - and if they raise prices incrementally enough, no one will catch if they are gouging. They get caught when they raise prices fast and in large amounts.

I'm pretty sure this station will be dramatically dropping its prices sometime today. Especially since other stations I passed had prices substantially lower.

I could be wrong and when I leave work, everyone will have their prices up by 20¢ a gallon or more.

I don't shop enough to know if gasoline is the only wildly fluctuating retail item, and I only get to track it because the price is posted outdoors and visibly.

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