Relatively low taxes have kept pump prices far below most other developed nations, which some say is precisely why the current runup is so painful.
Steve Hargreaves - CNN Money - May 1, 2008
Despite daily headlines bemoaning record gas prices, the U.S. is actually one of the cheaper places to fill up in the world.
Out of 155 countries surveyed, U.S. gas prices were the 45th cheapest, according to a recent study from AIRINC, a research firm that tracks cost of living data.
The difference is staggering. As of late March, U.S. gas prices averaged $3.45 a gallon. That compares to over $8 a gallon across much of Europe, $12.03 in Aruba and $18.42 in Sierra Leone.
The U.S. has always fought to keep gas prices low, and the current debate among presidential candidates on how to keep them that way has been fierce.
But those cheap gas prices - which Americans have gotten used to - mean they feel price spikes like the ones we're experiencing now more acutely than citizens from other nations which have had historically more expensive fuel.
Cheap gas prices have also lulled Americans into a cycle of buying bigger cars and bigger houses further away from their work - leaving them more exposed to rising prices, some experts say.
Price comparisons are not all created equal. Comparing gas prices across nations is always difficult. For starters, the AIRINC numbers don't take into account different salaries in different countries, or the different exchange rates. The dollar has lost considerable ground to the euro recently. Because oil is priced in dollars, rising oil prices aren't as hard on people paying with currencies which are stronger than the dollar, as they can essentially buy more oil with their money as the dollar falls in value.
And then there's the varying distances people drive, the public transportation options available, and the different services people get in exchange for high gas prices. For example, Europe's stronger social safety net, including cheaper health care and higher education, is paid for partly through gas taxes.
Gas price: It's all about government policy. Gasoline costs roughly the same to make no matter where in the world it's produced, according to John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. The difference in retail costs, he said, is that some governments subsidize gas while others tax it heavily.
In many oil producing nations gas is absurdly cheap. In Venezuela it's 12 cents a gallon. In Saudi Arabia it's 45