The legislation would give federal authorities the power during presidentially declared energy emergencies to investigate and prosecute anyone selling fuel at a price that is "unconscionably excessive" or "indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage unusual market conditions."
Forget for a second the absurdity of trying to define "unconscionably excessive," or what it means to take "unfair advantage of unusual market conditions." There was a country that tried this experiment in having the government, rather than markets, set prices. It was called The Soviet Union, and it collapsed in disarray. And, oh yeah, we tried having the government limit gas prices -- the result was long gas lines, back in the seventies.
This is four star populist economic idiocy of the worst sort. It's the kind of thing that makes you scratch your head and say "have they learned NOTHING?" And hey, my lefty blogger friends, call out your own party in this one. I challenge you. Worse, in the long run, it's political idiocy as well -- the folks who fall hardest for this sort of populist business-bashing are already Democrats. Right now, the Republicans have done everything in their power to alienate libertarians and small-government conservatives. So, shouldn't the Democrats be trying to convince this group -- a group that is seriously in play -- that, while they might regulate a little more and provide a few more goodies, they won't, you know. do anything massively stupid?
But forget all that.
Here's my question: aren't the Democrats the ones constantly telling us about Greenhouse effect, and how we have to consume much, much less in the fossil fuel department? One rather obvious way to reduce fossil fuel use is to raise prices. So, shouldn't price-gouging be a GOOD thing? Don't we want to encourage it, so as to give consumers to use less gasoline?
As greens, they ought to be cheering the price-gouging on, demanding more of it. "Go Big Oil, Raise those prices!" ought to be their cheer.
Meanwhile, as the Democrats make populist noises about Big Oil and price-gouging, a dozen states, including such right-wing havens as Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Michigan have minimum gas prices. Wisconsin's minimum price law, which requires that gas station owners sell gasoline for 9.2% over the wholesale price, has recently gotten a fair amount of attention because of a noteworthy case: Raj Bhandari, a Wisconsin gas station owner, was notified by state authorities that his two-cent-a-gallon gasoline discount for the elderly and those who support youth sports was illegal under Wisconsin law. Now, personally I don't hold with senior-citizen discounts -- I think that seniors should pay more -- but I also think that businesses ought to be able to charge whatever they want.
In these twelve states, you have laws requiring price-gouging. So, if the Democrats are all hot-and-bothered about price-gouging and want to do something to really help, why not pass a federal law preempting state minimum-price laws? Then they could go home and brag about how they had helped people -- and also get rid of a pernicious bit of government regulation at the state level.
How many Democrats have opposed such laws anyway?