Friday, March 2, 2012 - What's Right With Gas Prices - Opinion: What's Right With Gas Prices


Pundits insist America must finally get an energy policy. But we have one. It's called the price mechanism, and unless drastically interfered with, it has always given us a price at which we can buy all the gasoline we want.

Mr. Obama this week mocked Republicans who say, "Drill, baby, drill." But it's only right that America should produce, not just consume, the world's energy. It would be foolish to deny ourselves a share of the jobs and profits that flow from producing what America, realistically, will continue to consume in great gobs for decades to come despite any Obama fantasies about alternative energy.

Mr. Obama is right about one thing, however. Developing our reserves won't eliminate price volatility. That's because price volatility is a feature, not a bug, helping to elicit and ration the energy supplies without which global society would collapse into chaos.

But perhaps we should have said the price mechanism is the major motif in U.S. energy policy; an insistent minor motif has been subsidies for alternative energy, auto milage regulation, even occasional attempts to manipulate gasoline prices directly. These gestures give politicians something to say when the public is riled by pump prices; that's their function, along with creating opportunities to deliver handouts to grateful campaign donors. But the net effect surely has been to waste the country's resources. Where is the evidence, four decades after Nixon inaugurated these rituals, that the path of the global energy economy has been altered in any meaningful way?

Gasoline is the most visible price in the economy, and its gyrations cause the juju men in Washington and elsewhere to do crazy things, if not so crazy when understood that their real goal is to receive praise and ward off blame for the behavior of energy prices. But the price mechanism itself is still America's real energy policy, thank God.

One last thing: In the past 100 years, the real price of gasoline, in current dollars, has spent almost all its time between $2 and $4. So today's price is hardly the end of the world.



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