PRICE GOUGING FOR...

PRICE GOUGING FOR FUN AND POLITICAL PROFIT. Let's get something straight: the President's proposed investigation into gasoline price gouging is straight theatre. Not just because, as Matt noted, the Bush White House and the Republican Congress are funded by (and composed of) oilmen, but because gouging simply isn't the issue. At best, an investigation into unfair pricing practices will turn up a handful of malicious station owners jacking up the price. That, however, isn't what's driving high oil costs. Fears about peak oil, about Iraq, about Iran, about Venezuela, and all the rest are doing most of the work forcing prices upwards (if we so much as touch Iran, pump prices will shoot skyward). In addition, India, China, and others are requiring more and more crude, further inflating prices.

Worse yet, the light, sweet crude -- the easily-pumped, low-sulphur, cheaply-refined oil the industry prefers (see this for more) -- is becoming harder to find and trickier to extract. Take a look at this chart tracking the cost. Notice the trend line? That, not price gouging, is raising pump prices. Less light, sweet crude means the shortfall must be made up with heavy, sour crude, which is more expensive and inefficient to refine.

This isn't about price gouging, it's about increased instability in and demand for a finite product. Bush and the Republican Congress want credit for doing something, so they'll hold some show hearings. But as the days get longer and the summer months, with their high gas prices, arrive, a couple photo-ops won't do much to distract voters from pump prices nearing $4.

--Ezra Klein

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