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David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi
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Another Day, Another Administration Witch Hunt


So many imaginary villains and so little time.

This week, President Barack Obama is taking the fight to "oil speculators" and "market manipulation" (nee "free enterprise"), demanding that traders put up more money for transactions and government ratchet up enforcement and monitoring. "None of these will bring gas prices down overnight," Obama helpfully explained in his news conference. "But they will prevent market manipulation and help protect consumers."

No, they won't. They'd probably hurt consumers, and they would doubtlessly raise the cost of doing business. So for a few hundred words, let's treat populist agitation as if it were earnest policy.

Let's start by being thankful for oil speculation — no matter what the motivation of those involved might be. To begin with, speculation allows companies with exposure to fluctuating commodity prices to hedge against rising costs by locking in. Sometimes the bet pays off; other times it doesn't. But risk and profit are not yet crimes.

Oil speculation also offers consumers and investors information about the future that can help them make informed long-term decisions. Speculators trade commodities based on the information available in the marketplace. They reflect reality; they don't create it.

But sometimes, unfortunate as it is, prices will rise. "Gouging," the close scaremongering cousin of "speculation," helps persuade consumers not to use what they don't need. It incentivizes to modify behavior — our driving habits or the size of our cars. We conserve more when prices are higher, so we avoid shortages, and producers intensify their production. (Funny how Democrats get this concept when writing energy policy designed to artificially spike fossil fuel prices.)

The president surely understands, as well.

He knows that a fungible commodity's price is driven by demand and geopolitical events beyond the control of speculators or, for the most part, Washington. There are billions of people in China, India and elsewhere who are new consumers of oil — and they are better off for it. We are better off for it.

Or put it this way: Natural gas prices are trading so cheaply that it's no longer profitable to drill for most companies. According to Businessweek, there are only 624 operating drills in the United States, the fewest since April 2002. So I guess natural gas speculators forgot to manipulate the world market this month. Or do oil manipulators only work part time? Confusing.

Where, after all, is the president's evidence that oil speculation is driving up oil prices? The White House "Fact Sheet" on the matter offers plenty of solutions to a problem it hasn't even proved exists. Why are we going to spend another $52 million — and who-knows-what in political witch hunt trials — on a theory that plays on assumptions and flourishes in the progressive blogosphere?

Obviously, much of this is driven by political realities and accusations by Republicans that the president isn't doing enough to curb rising oil prices. George W. Bush also talked about manipulation nonsense, and I'm sure it's gone on forever.

So it's also worth noting that Washington, regrettably enough, already has the power to enact the counterproductive regulations the president is asking for. Nothing needs to be passed. It was only last year when Obama formed a special task force designed to find manipulation in the oil market and to ferret out incidents of gas gouging.

It is rare when Washington gives a topic what it deserves. But the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group has given the American people exactly what the topic deserves: zip.

David Harsanyi is a columnist and senior reporter at Human Events. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. To find out more about David Harsanyi and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...You call speculators practicioners of free enterprise...And that seems especially cool because from their perspective Heads they win and Tails we lose... What they are speculating about is the cost of something we own before it ever become theirs to sell, and which costs them a little bit of nothing compared to what other people in other countries are paid for what is pumped or mined out of their ground... We need it, and our world, our country has been so constructed that we cannot live without it, and they have it for so little, and already have so much of our wealth that it is nothing to them to speculate, and they can because as a class they have every essential market cornered...The side benefit to them is that the President gets a lot of blame for events and actions beyond his control... Those who think of the president as a tyrant can't see too little of him... And those who see him as pointless and useless because he is of the other party, or offers them no defense can't see too little of him... The speculators have him coming or going and all he can do is squirm...

You are a part of it... He speaks something many Americans are beginning to feel, and talks to their pain, and it shall not be heard because he is talking against the established principal that all earthly good flows out of the garden of free enterprise... Where enterprise is free, people are not... The people are not free to go after their property, their commonwealth and retrieve it from the rich... Though we be equal as citizens; those with wealth are more equal, and free as a result to stick us up, and plunder us senseless, and we are not free to defend ourselves...Free enterprise has nothing to do with such robbing of the people with their own property...I have a word for you, in every sense the equal of the word Free Enterprise...It is NATIONALIZATION...Those people what to hurt us for their own pleasure...They have given up any claim to our respect... If they wave the flag it is a ruse... They are the enemy of the people and of democracy ..Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:22 PM
Mr. Sweeney please provide examles of how Nationalization has provided cheap and efficient services to the people. I am at a loss to find any.
Comment: #2
Posted by: david
Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:05 AM
Nationalization???? Yeah putting a bunch of corrupt, incompetent, lazy, elitist Government officials in charge of a big business is a recipe for success! Yeah Sweeney you have all the answers, policies that failed last century. You are a true regressive, a relic, a dinosaur.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Thetruth
Fri Apr 27, 2012 6:04 PM
Re: david

"Mr. Sweeney please provide examles of how Nationalization has provided cheap and efficient services to the people. I am at a loss to find any."

Venezuela? Cuba? North Korea?

Okay...not so much...
Comment: #4
Posted by: Jeff Gunn
Sun Apr 29, 2012 5:04 AM
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