Thursday, May 12, 2011

‘Tis the Summer of Our Discontent…


So gas prices are playing leap-frog with the $4.00 per gallon mark, one week over, one week under, though at least in New Jersey it seems to spend more time under than over. Still, we’re hearing doomsday predictions of $5.00 prices coming our way, perhaps right in time for the grand summer gas-guzzling extravaganza kicking off Memorial Day weekend.

And of course this means a corresponding increase in costs for anything touched along its given way by petroleum, which happens to be just about everything. Food, power, service industries, manufacturing; they’re all accordingly corrupted and priced in part by oil.

And yet, strangely, while we’re paying an absolute premium for our premium, oil companies are raking in record profits. No, we’re not talking about gross, but net numbers here. But why is this, since you would think that the rising prices must be coming from rising costs closer to the source? Surely there’s a shortage, or concern about stability in some oil-rich part of the world, or some sort of disaster that would seriously impact production, right?

Wrong. OPEC says there is no shortage, and in fact, there is even a surplus at this time. Other oil-producing countries and consortiums are expressing the same sentiment. And sure, the geopolitical stability in most regions is, as usual, tenuous, but actually no more so than at most other randomly selected times in the past when gas prices were a whole lot lower. And unquestionably, the Gulf debacle of last year is wreaking havoc still on fishing in the effected areas, despite our pitifully short attention spans shuffling this disaster to some fog-sheathed back-burner. But the economic aftershock on oil prices should now be a pebble’s ripple in the sea.

So this means the oil companies are gouging. And while all the Randian idealists are trumpeting Free Market Or Die, we’ve never operated under any sort of true, pure capitalism. There has always been governmental involvement in the country’s economy. Ask the banks borrowing short term at insanely low interest rates. Ask Microsoft, Bell, or major league sports. The government has always had a hand in what goes on with our dollars and cents. What’s varied over the years is the degree of hands-on treatment.

This country has been struggling to recover from one of its worst economic disruptions. There’s been no definitive cure to the illness, but some of the symptoms finally appear to be improving. There is hope for the first time in some time.

Cry all you want, you ultra-con naïfs, but if there has ever been a perfectly valid reason for the government to investigate an industry, the targets would be oil companies, and the time would be now.

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