George Bush’s announcement this morning that the administration was concerned about “gouging” reminded me of why I wish that we’d had better options in the last two elections (and still do). I expect that kind of nonsense from Democrats, but you’d think that someone who was supposedly a businessman would know better. Or perhaps he does, and is just pandering. I’m not sure which is worse.
Every time we have a natural disaster like this, this idiotic topic comes up, and we once again have to explain Econ 101 to the products of our public school system, probably in futility. This time, it’s Rich Hailey’s turn.
Here’s what I wrote about it a three years ago, in the wake of Katrina.
[Update late morning]
Jeez, I thought that David Asman was smarter than that. Now he’s telling Fox viewers to take pictures of stations with high gas prices so that they can be reported to authorities. It’s hard for me to believe that Neal Cavuto would do that.
[Another update a minute or so later]
You know, I think that this is an explanation for socialism and collectivism’s continuing grip on the public mind, despite its long history of unending failure. There’s just something in human psychology to which it naturally appeals, and rationality just can’t break through. It just “feels” unfair for prices to go up in an emergency, regardless of the demonstrably bad consequences of attempting to legislate them.
[Late afternoon update]
Shannon Love explains how the gas station business works:
I’ll say it one more time for those who can’t be bothered to actually ask someone who owns a gas station. Gas stations set prices for the gas they sell today based on the wholesale price of the gas they will have to buy to replace it. Get it? The price you pay for a gallon today is the cost of the gallon the station will have buy to replace the one you just bought.
Gas stations sell gas at or near cost, so if they did not use replacement pricing any sudden spike in gas prices would shut them down and you couldn’t get any gas. I simply do not know why our public and private talking heads cannot understand and communicate this simple fact.
Because either they don’t know it, or they think that people don’t want to hear it. They operate on razor-thin margins, and can’t afford to hand out subsidized gas as charity, even if that wouldn’t screw up the market. And note, for those who say it’s “big oil” that is “maximizing profits” in the face of a national emergency, even if that were true (it’s not) “big oil” isn’t threatened with jail for “gouging.” It’s the gas station owner, who has no control over his wholesale gas costs. So people who demand that we crack down on gougers are essentially demanding that the station operators either operate at a loss, or pay fines, or go to jail. I don’t know why anyone would want to be in that business in the face of so much public ignorance about it.