–by Chad E. Rogers
I was kicking around Human Events Online today and came across an article called “Trust the Market.” The article is essentially an adulatory review of a book by John Lott, which is a free-market tome with some familiar, if stale, talking points about gas prices.
The article addresses the issue of high gas prices, and puts forth some familiar talking points:
The alternative to the free market, Lott notes, would be for the federal government to impose price controls on gasoline. Washington has done this in the past, specifically during the oil crises in the 1970s.
Instead of making things better for consumers, though, these price controls led to gas shortages in 1973 and again in 1978. â€œAmericans waited in lines for hours to fill up their tanks due to chronic shortagesâ€ in the 1970s, Lott writes, shortages that â€œinstantly disappeared as soon as the price controls were removed.â€
Yes, this is true- when Reagan signed an executive order getting rid of price controls, things improved. I can agree with the idea that price controls don’t work. But Americans are angered by high gas prices, and we have a president with connections to big oil. Perception is reality in politics, whether you want to deal with it or not. The American people feel the strain of high gas prices, and they blame Republicans. Whether or not we think it’s right and/ or fair has nothing to do with it.
This is an example of what I call the Republican party’s “reality problem.’ But back to the article.
The author runs into trouble in other parts of the article:
When it comes to setting gas prices, Lott writes, â€œthe free market is working, and itâ€™s ultimately working far more efficiently than any government-mandated controls would.â€
…todayâ€™s soaring prices are actually a good thing. They mean our free market is working to deliver a product many people want at a price theyâ€™re willing to pay. â€œTemporarily high prices result in increased gas supplies, ultimately leading to a faster reduction in gas prices,â€ he writes.
The obvious problem with this statement is that it just isn’t true. Americans have been hearing this for two years now, and gas prices have gone one way: UP! Saying something over and over doesn’t make it true. Even when adjusted for inflation, gas prices are at a record historical high. He’s right to say that price controls don’t work, but his lapsing into all-too-familiar “just trust the market” slogan rings hollow. Why?
Because our “free market” is not really free. ” There’s this international cartel called OPEC, which is notorious for manipulating oil supplies and thereby keeping gas prices artificially inflated. And there’s the issue of refining capacity; we need more refineries, and we need to increase the supply of oil. This hasn’t happened, due to a number of factors that are probably above my pay grade.
Republicans are often tarred with the brush of big business elitists who exploit working and poor people. High gas prices, combined with Bush’s capitulation to the illegal alien lobby, has not helped this image. Democrats haven’t offered anything new to help the problem of high gas prices.
With the Iraq war, they’re giving us the choice of “staying the course” or “cut and run.” With illegal aliens, it’s “ship them all back” or “give them amnesty.” With gas prices it’s, “leave it alone” or “price controls.” This is America, the country who put a man on the moon and invented all kinds of great things.
There’s another way. There has to be.
So can we get serious here? Can we admit that we have a problem with gas prices, and it’s not just SUV’S and Hummers causing the problem? Can we get beyond this business of price control vs. free market, and have an honest discussion? It would be most helpful.