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When it came to the economy, there used to be two distinct political parties in America. Democrats generally favored larger government, more controls over the economy, and higher taxes. Republicans preferred smaller government, a more free economy, and lower taxes. But in the dozen years since the Republicans gained control over Congress, they have inexplicably begun to morph into the party that they displaced.
Government spending under the Republican Congress is out of control, and the high price of gas is causing Republicans to dust off socialist terminology like “price gouging” and “obscene profits.” The one remaining difference between the parties seems to be on tax policy—Republicans still tend to favor lower taxes—but given the Republicans’ abandonment of their other principles, I wonder how long that will be the case.
James K. Glassman chides President Bush for jumping on the “bash big oil” bandwagon:
He started his speech by, once again, criticizing Americans for their “addiction to oil.” He used the same obnoxious phrase in his State of the Union Address.
The President — and I am not even mentioning the claptrap one hears from Speaker Denny Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter — is now using the lexicon of extreme environmentalists and statists. Again, he knows better.
After talking about addiction, the President said he was going to crack down on price gouging — that old bugaboo. He said he had asked the Justice and Energy departments to find out whether the rising price of gas was partly the result of manipulation. This is absurd. The gasoline market is broad, fragmented and highly competitive. Price gouging has been studied many times, to no effect. Gas prices are rising because crude oil prices are rising.
President Bush lived and worked in the oil patch. He knows very well that oil is a commodity whose price moves up and down with global changes in supply and demand — movements that we can’t affect all that much. What we can do is remove political obstacles to a well-functioning market. Such steps would increase supply and lower prices. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. The rising oil price is affected by geopolitical threats, but it is mainly the result of increased demand, which itself is the result of rising standards of living — which are a lot better than the alternative.
Glassman also explains many of the reasons that the price of gas is so high today: increased demand from developing countries like India and China, belligerent talk from Iran and general uncertainty on the world stage, and a political climate in America that makes it impossible to increase production capacity.
Did you know, for example, that a new oil refinery hasn’t been built in the United States in the past 30 years? Or that environmentalists have blocked new oil drilling virtually everywhere in the country? And since oil isn’t an option, what about nuclear power? Nope, environmentalists have blocked that, too. Even wind farms are out of vogue; the great environmentalist Kennedy clan is trying to kill a wind farm project in the Nantucket Sound that might have marred the view from their Hyannisport compound. In other words, many of the people using the high price of gas to push for government intervention in the economy are the very people who created the energy supply shortfall in the first place.
But that doesn’t let the Republicans off the hook. In fact, it makes it more important to take them to task for their irresponsible economic rhetoric. I expect Democrats to employ socialist arguments; it’s what they do. But when Republicans join them, it makes me wonder what the point of voting Republican is. I doubt I’m alone in feeling this way, and if so, the Republicans have a reason to worry about the election in November. They are supposed to be the party that understands basic economic laws like supply and demand. Maybe a good old-fashioned electoral ass-whoopin’ is what the Republicans need to remind them of that.