Everybody looks for people to blame when gas prices go up; how come nobody ever looks for people to thank when they go down?
Four-dollar-plus-per-gallon gas prices have Americans grousing about oil speculators. Efforts to rein in the speculators have not worked. Masters of economic theory from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) are calling for an end to oil speculation. And in a Zogby poll, a whopping 87 percent of Americans believe speculators are Very Responsible (61 percent) or Somewhat Responsible (26 percent) for current retail gasoline prices.
Given the disdain for sorcery among all the Abrahamic faiths, it's not surprising to find Americans so hostile to investors who believe they can predict the future prices of a commodity. I'm sure if I ever met any actual oil speculators I'd find them disagreeable too.
But then what can we make of the new trend in emergency-road-service calls? With AAA of Oregon and Idaho, AAA-Mid-Atlantic and even the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Expressway Safety Service Patrol all reporting increases in the number of out-of-gas calls they are receiving from stranded motorists, our media masters have decided this phenomenon can't be explained as the work of roadside Romeos too cheap to get a room. Instead, it's another sorrowful sign of economic distress, as Americans struggle to survive the green-shoots recovery by riding – literally – on fumes. "Rising gas prices have pushed some drivers to gamble with their fuel gauges," The Dallas Morning News intones. "Unfortunately, many of them are losing the bet."
For the sake of argument let's assume the emergency road-service uptick story is not the flaming bag of bogus trend-finding it appears to be. All these people losing the game of eighth-of-a-tank roulette are not assuming their cars will keep going without fuel. They're making the bet that every driver at some point, facing a low gas tank and an endless black ribbon of name-brand service stations, has to make: Do I pull over and get gouged by Shell right now or keep looking for that 10-cents-cheaper Valero of my dreams?
That may not be smart policy, but it's certainly common. A substantial portion of Americans would take a mild risk and bet on a change in fuel prices (which are among the most volatile and rapidly changing prices of anything you buy on a regular basis) when there is no more at stake than a price difference of 40 cents, a dollar at most. Why are oil speculators, who have much more at stake and who are just as sure to suffer when they guess wrong, any worse than the rest of us?