The political cartoon duo Cox and Forkum have taken on the current gas woes.
They also link to a piece from the Ayn Rand Institute written by Alex Epstein called The Myth of “Price-Gouging”.
The term “price gouging” implies that gas stations have an ability to forcibly inflict harm on us–but they do not. Any price we pay for a gallon of gasoline–whether $1 or $3–we pay voluntarily, based on the value of the gasoline to us. If we think we are spending too much on gasoline, we are free to drive less, to buy more fuel-efficient cars, to use carpools or busses, or to travel by bicycle or on foot. Gas station owners cannot force us to buy gasoline; they can only offer us a trade, which we are free to accept or reject.
But, one might ask, without anti-”price gouging” laws won’t owners of gasoline charge the absolute highest prices they can? Absolutely, and they have every moral right to do so–just as consumers of gasoline have every right to pay the lowest prices they can find. Gas station owners are not our servants. They are producers who spend money, exert effort, and assume risk to bring a product to market. They own the gasoline they sell, and like any property owner they should be free to set the terms of sale.
Since we pay the lowest price that we can find for gasoline (and never more than it is worth to us), and gas stations sell gasoline for the highest price they can get (and never less than it is worth to them), the price of gasoline is a reflection of mutually beneficial trade–the essence of proper interaction under capitalism. For a gas station owner to charge what the market will bear is no more “gouging” than it is for a computer programmer–or a cashier–to negotiate for the highest salary he can get.