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I spent over $40 to fill the tank of our trusty Toyota Corolla last night. This was the first time this has happened. To an European reader, such a price for gas seems absurdly cheap, but it is latest mark of a whopping increase in the U.S. over the past two years.

Our car gets moderate mileage and we don't use it much at all. So it's not much of a slap at our finances. This is not the common case here. With stagnant wages, jobs that can be many miles from home, and inflation evident in food, other energy costs and many other products, the inescapable conclusion is that the U.S. standard of living is in decline. And I can't see any turn around coming.

This runs so counter to the implicit assumption of American life that I don't think many people have fully digested it.