What's Slippier Than Gas Prices? Slipperier Politicians. Here's Why


Something's up with gas prices. They're coming down. Actually, they're tumbling down. Last year at this time, a gallon of unleaded was averaging about $4. Today, more than half the service stations in the country offer the same gallon for under three bucks.

That doesn't sound right. But you know what else doesn't sound right? Not a single politician sounding off about this -- any of this. What I want to know is why isn't Congress looking into this travesty? Where's New York Senator Chuck Schumer to bash the oil guys for this clear price manipulation? Surely, there's no shortage of microphones?! Why haven't we seen the oil chief executives hauled to Washington for the predictable kangaroo court hearings? Where's the political outrage? Where's the media outcry over slippery oil's latest move to undoubtedly screw us?

Oh, wait a minute. That stuff only happens when prices go up, not down; when folks are complaining, not celebrating. No, we save the price manipulation stuff for when prices aren't going the way we want them, not when they are. It needn't matter the oil industry apparently can't fix prices to its liking. Because what's going on now is something we are all liking.

All of us, that is, except smaller oil drillers who fear if prices go much lower, they might have to close up shop. Today's Wall Street Journal spells out their conundrum quite nicely, detailing that the closer we get to $65-a-barrel oil (we're at around $82-a-barrel now, and down from $107 just four months ago) the less the math favors drilling for oil at all. If all this rings an ancient bell to older readers and viewers, it should. The same thing happened in the early 1980s, when a stubborn recession led to a precipitous drop in oil prices that prompted hundreds of Texas and Southwestern wildcat drillers to close up shop.

It could be happening again, but I have as yet to hear a single call for "pump justice" now. No, oil prices declining -- for whatever reason -- is a welcome development, not a sinister development. Sure, it might have sinister consequences for some in the oil industry, but since most politicians find oil guys sinister anyway -- who cares?

Here's why I think you should care, and why I think we all should care. What we are witnessing is classic Washington smarminess. The same politicians who attach ridiculous motives and sinister plots to prices going up don't say a word about those same forces working in reverse when prices go down.

I figure a dramatic move up OR down in prices warrants a consistent argument. It's either a cabal or market forces. It can't be both. If you assign Machiavellian price-rigging to a sudden run-up at the pump, for consistency sake you should be offering the same explanation for when they go in reverse. You should be demanding the same hearings into this obvious turn in prices, even though this time it's a welcome turn in prices.

Or maybe Congress' eerie silence is a belated admission they actually DO GET market forces. They get supply and demand. They get the fact that the world economy seems to be slowing down, so maybe the demand for oil is slowing down too. Maybe they finally understand the business world and what moves it more than I ever gave them credit for -- maybe these chest-thumping, microphone-chasing politicians understand that cabals are hard to pull off in a world that doesn't always comply. Maybe these guys who love to blast business are finally recognizing this business reality -- what comes up invariably comes down. Try as even sinister oil guys must clearly try, they apparently have to keep trying...because the world ain't abiding.

Me? I'm just waiting to hear anyone in Washington bemoan the plight of those wildcatters likely soon out of jobs. Their jobs aren't so crucial, I guess. Their reversals in fortune aren't so noteworthy or microphone-worthy, or blasting media press statement -worthy.

No, it's just like during the giddy days before the real estate meltdown, when everyone's home was an ATM and playing the stock market was like shooting fish in a barrel. We knew then it was all too good to be true, but where was the politician to complain? Washington doesn't investigate good times, my friends, however specious. Only bad times....however late.

The irony, of course, is that these ARE bad times and what's happening to gas prices illustrates that case. Only no one in Washington is on that case, are they? No, that's a different case. Wait until it's too late to do something before anyone in Washington gets off their case...no doubt, to just blame someone else again and get in THEIR case.