In the U.S. Senate the Guilty Interrogate the Innocent

by | Mar 15, 2006

Environmentalism thus stands a very strong chance of ultimately reverting to the more traditional socialism of massive government construction and engineering projects.

In an article titled “A Senate Panel Interrogates Wary Oil Executives” today’s New York Times reports that “The nation’s top oil executives were called before Congress again yesterday to defend their industry’s recent mergers and record profits, in the face of public outrage over high oil and gasoline prices.”

Judging from The Times’ article, the hearings touched on everything but the simple, obvious cause of high oil and gasoline prices. They dealt with mergers in the oil industry, which, it was recognized by Senator Feinstein (Democrat from California), have served to lower costs of production in the industry. Somehow neither she nor, apparently, any of the other senators present, could see that the resulting lower costs would naturally result in lower prices if that were the only factor operative. (Lower prices would be necessary in order to derive competitive advantage from the lower costs and the mergers that produced them. Absent lower prices, smaller-scale, higher-cost firms would be just as profitable as before. But with lower prices, they would not be and would thus have to yield market share to the merged and now lower-cost producers.)

A witness (a professor in the business school at UC Berkeley) seemed to want to say that gasoline prices had risen because the world price of oil had risen, which, in The Times’ reporter’s words at least, made the oil companies “not solely responsible for high gasoline prices.”

Two Republican senators, Specter from Pennsylvania and DeWine from Ohio, placed the blame on OPEC. And Senator Specter has apparently proposed legislation to allow the U.S. government to take legal action against OPEC for its fixing of oil prices.

I titled this article “In the U.S. Senate the Guilty Interrogate the Innocent.” A more complete title would be, “In the U.S. Senate, Senators Serving the OPEC Cartel Interrogate American Energy Producers Whom They Prevent from Breaking that Cartel.”

How do U.S. Senators, and the whole US government, do this? They do it by preventing the expansion in domestic oil production that could take place in Alaska, offshore on the continental shelf, and in the vast territories that have arbitrarily been set aside as wildlife preserves and wilderness areas and closed to oil drilling. They also do it by preventing the construction of new atomic power plants and by impeding the mining of coal and the development of additional supplies of natural gas.

Larger supplies of domestically produced oil would increase the world supply of oil and drive down its price. And they could do so very dramatically, because just as a few percent decrease in the supply of oil is capable of increasing its price by a multiple of several times that few percent, so a few percent increase in the supply of oil would work just as powerfully in the opposite direction.

At the same time, the availability of larger supplies of atomic power, coal, and natural gas, would reduce the demand for oil, since the additional supplies of these fuels would replace oil to an important extent. The oil no longer needed by an electric utility, for example, because that utility would now use atomic power or burn coal, that oil would have to find some alternative use, and to open up that use its price would have to be substantially lower.

Our government’s policy of preventing the increase in the supply of oil, atomic power, coal, and natural gas, is what is responsible for the high prices of oil and gasoline that we must now pay. Let it just get out of the way, and the supply of all these forms of energy will dramatically increase and the price of oil and gasoline will fall, even more dramatically.

Every senator who votes to place obstacles in the way of U.S. energy production, who helps to harass U.S. energy producers, is voting to hamper OPEC’s most important competitors and to allow OPEC to go on obtaining high prices. Such senators are the ones who bear responsibility for the high price of oil and gasoline. They are senators serving OPEC not the American people.

They are the ones who deserve to be interrogated, in order to learn how they could be so blind, so stupid, and so destructive.

To learn about every aspect of the case for capitalism, read my Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Originally published at the blog of George Reisman. Copyright 2019 George Reisman. All rights reserved.

George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. See his author's page for additional titles by him. Visit his website and his blog Watch his YouTube videos and follow @GGReisman on Twitter.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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