Earlier this week, The New York Times’ Hannah Fairfield published a wonder graph of miles driven and traffic fatalities. So I figured we should revisit an earlier, similar graphic on the relationship between the price of gasoline and miles driven. It was also created by Hannah Fairfield and uses a similar approach: using values on the x- and y-axis while representing time with meandering lines.
This graph effectively demonstrates the law of demand, but forgoing the typical graphical relationship used in economics classes. This diagram clearly demonstrates the rise in gas prices are met with reducing the number of miles driven. Moreover, we see how inelastic consumers reaction to increase in prices. Only during the recent spike in prices did miles driven bend backward. The dramatic price increases only reverted the miles driven by a few years; however, the recent surge in prices reduce miles driven to 1999 levels.
Economic graphs of this relationship can be confusing, but this graph makes it clearer than the supply and demand models in textbooks try to communicate. Likewise, it makes a point economists struggle to highlight. By increasing fuel efficiency—which reduces the per mile cost of driving—how many more miles will be driven as a result?