May 18 2007

Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act: aka the “STUPID” bill

Here’s a follow-up to the previous post about stupid Americans acting stupid. Looks like the stupidity is not limited to the idiotic idea of boycotting gas for a day, rather it is alive and well among America’s leaders. Here’s the Democrats’ solution to the high gas prices faced by Americans today:

Join the Campaign to Change America / John Edwards ’08 Blog

“The ENERGY PRICE GOUGING PREVENTION ACT will provide immediate relief to consumers by giving the Federal Trade Commission the AUTHORITY to investigate prices–focusing on the causes, the burdens they put on American families and businesses, and solutions.”

And here’s an insightful and entertaining critique of the Democrat’s proposed bill by economist Tim Haab:

Environmental Economics: All politicians are idiots and other obvious thoughts on high gas prices

“There are two possibile explanations for the Democrats proposal of the STUPID bill. 1) They think the public is too stupid realize they are trying to “do something” by proposing a STUPID bill, or 2) They are idiots. Since Env-Econ readers obviously represent a cross-section of the public, and since Env-Econ readers are smart enough to know that this bill is STUPID, I have to conclude that 1) is logically impossible and therefore, 2) must be true. So we’ve now proven that Democrats are idiots. We’re halfway there.”

The stupidity of this proposed bill lies in the fact that Democrats seem to champion environmental protection, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and a solution to the global warming problem, while simultaneously fighting for regulations that REDUCE the price of greenhouse gas emitting fuel, the repeal of gas taxes, the expansion of oil refineries’ capacity, and other measures that will assure the cheapest gas possible for American drivers. The two goals are incompatible, as the solution to the greenhouse gas problem requires HIGHER gas prices, not lower gas prices.

What policy makers don’t realize is that “high gas prices are NOT an economic or political problem.” Markets allocate resources efficiently when markets are allowed to work. Higher gas prices reflect the basic economic law of scarcity, supply and demand. With developing countries like China demanding a greater proportion of world reserves than ever before, American drivers preparing for their summer road trips and a war raging in the middle east, higher prices at the pump should come as no surprise. Intervention in the gas market will result in greater inefficiency, as prices kept artificially low by government interfere with the market mechanism, increasing the quantity of gas demanded, and further exasperating the depletion of this scarce resource (not to mention contributing to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions). The shortsightedness of legislators may only postpone the inevitable price rises of this resource for tomorrow’s consumers, while work in the complete opposite direction as they desire on the global warming front.FPGPA supporter

Ultimately, higher gas prices are necessary and desirable if we are to transition to more environmentally friendly fuel sources. As petrol reaches $4.00 per gallon, consumers will think more seriously about buying more fuel-efficient automobiles, using public transportation, choosing to cycle to work and taking other such steps towards reducing their carbon footprints. This, after all, is the only way Democrats will ever achieve their other supposed goal of avoiding the catastrophe of global warming and achieving greater energy independence; and this can only happen if gas prices continue to rise.

So what about “price gouging”? Concentration of market power among a handful of firms in the oligopolistic oil market may indeed result in some degree of collusion and setting of prices above equilibrium. This is inefficient, yes, but it occurs in a market in which, unregulated, equilibrium output and price would also be inefficient due to the existence of negative externalities. In other words, even were oil companies competing directly, the price would be too low and output too high since the price of gas does not include the full social cost of gas consumption. In a way, the inefficiency arising from excess market power corrects the inefficiency arising from the existence of externalities. The catch is this: consumers end up lining the pockets of oil companies rather than filling their own national tax coffers, since the higher price is a result of collusion rather than taxation.

What policy makers should be discussing is the imposition of new gas taxes, which, rather than only increasing the price consumers would pay, would reduce the ability of oil firms to price gouge, taking a chunk out of their “record profits” and turning it into tax revenues. These revenues could then be invested into research of new fuel technologies, the subsidizing of which would increase their supplies, making them more competitive as a substitute for petrol and thus more attractive to consumers. This helps politicians achieve their goal of energy independence and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Lower gas prices NOW will only postpone this important transition.

Here’s another clear presentation of why politicians should not meddle with oil prices: Knowledge Problem: Price Gouging – Politicians vs. Economists

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act: aka the “STUPID” bill”

  1. […] Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act: aka the “STUPID” bill […]

  2. Fred Lisiwickson 20 Jul 2007 at 10:00 am

    Wow! if you didn't use the words stupid and idiot 12 times in the first third of this writing I would have never know how stupid it is. Thanks for such insightful commentary. Democrats, Liberal, Environmental, Satanists are just STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

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