Who's raising prices in this economy?

What a world when gasoline and clothing prices jump by the most in nearly two decades as hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs amid an apparently deepening recession.

I long ago realized that gasoline prices fluctuate to the beat of their own (oil) drum. The oil cartels have us over the barrel, if you'll forgive me for applying a bad pun to a worse cliché.

ConocoPhillips ( COP), Exxon Mobil ( XOM), BP ( BP) and other producers of gasoline know how to play the supply and demand game to their own advantage -- which is good for investors and puzzling to consumers. So I'm not going to try to decipher the 8.3% jump in the gasoline index for February.

But clothing prices? The apparel index rose 1.3%, with the biggest increase for menswear and clothing for boys. Where's that coming from?

Last I checked, consumers were buying less and sales were declining at Gap ( GPS), Macy's ( M) and Target ( TGT).Not to mention the losses reported by Liz Claiborne ( LIZ)and other clothing makers.

Nothing about February's 0.4% increase in consumer prices makes much sense.

Now no one wants deflation -- our economy is deflated enough -- but a little price stability might be good.

I don't want to see retailers and clothing makers get hammered. But I know the consumer is the heart of the economy, and consumers are hurting right now. So a little price moderation might be good for everyone.

Now is not the time to be gouging shoppers - we need them to keep shopping after all.

Hall is the editor of TheStreet.com. Previously, he served as deputy editor and chief innovation officer at The Orange County Register and as a news manager at Bloomberg News in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. As a reporter, he covered business and financial markets, worked in both print and television in the U.S. and Europe, and conducted in-depth investigative coverage at The Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. His work also has been published in a variety of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and International Herald Tribune. Hall received a bachelor�s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University and has taken graduate management science courses at Boston University.

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