The opening to a story about declining gas prices seems reasonable enough:
Pump prices — now at a national average of $2.28 a gallon for regular unleaded — already have fallen because of a slowdown in U.S. demand, a buildup in crude oil and gasoline inventories, the end of the summer driving season, a collapse in profit margins at oil refineries and a $17-a-barrel drop in crude oil prices since August.
Forget the journalist’s rambling list of causes, since the first two, decreased demand and increased supply, are sufficient. The remaining reasons mostly flow from the basic supply and demand argument. That’s not stunning, of course, as economic laws cannot be defeated by wishful thinking, often demonstrated as political grandstanding. That’s what makes this so frustrating:
Three out of 10 Americans think the recent fall in gasoline prices is a result of domestic political factors, including White House and Republican Party efforts to influence the November elections. That’s nearly as many as the 35 percent who attribute the recent price decline to market forces or supply and demand, according to the poll of 1,204 adults conducted from Thursday to Sunday.
The survey also showed that suspicions about the steep drop in gasoline prices over the past two months aren’t limited to the nation’s liberal strongholds. Sixteen percent of people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans, 26 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 29 percent of Southern residents think the plunge in prices is linked to the coming election or other political reasons.
That’s predictable. I was always inclined to agree with arguments for universal economics education as a graduation requirement, but really, the need for that is nowhere more obvious than in the incessant debate on gas prices. This ignorance gets perpetuated in the nonsense our elected leaders spew. The only control the government has in the market is the ability to cause harm or discontinue causing harm. People who wish to deny this are free to do so.
For a moment let’s pretend that the government has this power. If it did, it would work both ways. The government could decrease prices at will to influence elections. It could increase prices to benefit big donors. It could undertake all the nefarious actions people suspect. If it possessed such nonexistent powers, haven’t politicians shown a sufficient lack of scruples that we’d like them to get out of the game altogether? Would it be any surprise that they’re rigging it against us? Of course not.
Back in the real world, though, please remember that government has no such powers, so stop asking. It only drives the rest of us crazy.