Samuelson: Gas Gouging Good

Politicians like Nancy Pelosi who carp about high gas prices and brood about gouging while simultaneously bemoaning global warming are hypocrites. That's the gist of Robert J. Samuelson's column in today's Washington Post. The actual title is A Full Tank of Hypocrisy, but the teaser headline for it on the online op-ed home page is "The Case for Gouging."

Samuelson in fact disputes that gouging, in the sense of collusion among oil producers/refiners, is taking place. He points out, for example, that concentration of ownership in the oil industry has been deemed low-to-moderate, "less concentrated than the auto industry, which is considered intensely competitive." But the long-time WaPo columnist does make the case than many politicians in the global-warming crowd are engaging in some have-it-both-ways hypocrisy on the issue of higher gasoline prices.

It's one of those delicious moments when Washington's hypocrisy is on full and unembarrassed display. On the one hand, some of America's leading politicians condemn high gasoline prices and contend that they stem from "gouging" by oil companies. On the other, many of the same politicians warn against global warming and implore us to curb our use of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

Guess what: These crowd-pleasing proclamations are contradictory. Anyone fearful of global warming should cheer higher gasoline prices, because much higher prices represent precisely the sort of powerful incentive needed to push consumers toward more fuel-efficient vehicles and to persuade the auto industry to produce them in large numbers. Bravo for higher prices!

Samuelson concludes with these inconvenient truths:

[I]f fuel prices aren't high, people won't want to buy fuel-efficient cars, which will be more expensive, smaller or both. People will also drive more -- offsetting efficiency gains -- because it's cheaper. In 2005, the average car traveled 12,375 miles, up 1,871 miles since 1990. Given expanding populations of people and cars, massive gains in efficiency are needed merely to hold total fuel use constant. All this applies equally to buildings and appliances; higher electricity prices are an essential catalyst.

Americans want to stop global warming. They want to cut oil imports. They want cheaper energy. Who will tell them that they can't have it all? Not our "leaders."

Personally, I believe the global warming alarmism of the Al Gore variety is just that. Still, it's illuminating to see politicians spin in a circle of their own hypocrisy on these issues.

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