In this month’s installment of WLF’s New York Times op-ed page “In All Fairness” column (available here), I noted how the government’s responses to rising gas prices should give everyone an uneasy sense of deja vu. Thanks to yesterday’s news that some politicians are urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate oil refiners for price fixing, I am starting to understand what Yogi Berra’s meant when he said “it’s deja vu all over again.”
Nearly every time gas prices have gone up over the past several decades, political leaders of all stripes have sought government investigations for price fixing or some other supposed predatory practice. Each time, federal agencies have dutifully invested taxpayer money and staff time to these theatrical requests, with each instance returning the same answer: no unlawful activity.
This latest request is more of the same pageantry. The letter to FTC Chairman Leibowitz is replete with the standard rhetoric (“record profits,” “direct affront to the American people,” etc.), and cites to government statistics taken out of context about refining capacity and “reports” that refiners are cutting back on stockpiles to keep prices high. Turns out this “report” was created to support newspaper story which was exploring the idea that refiners were up to no good. No mention was made on whether the report was subject to any peer review process, but likely it wasn’t.
This is, as the saying goes, no way to run a railroad. There are real, long-term solutions to high U.S. energy prices and our future energy security. None of them involve trumped-up charges or calls for federal antitrust investigations. Our elected leaders should get to work on those, and leave the punditry to others.