In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2007 / 6 Tishrei 5768

Economics vs. politics

By Paul Greenberg

Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | With gasoline prices now only medium outrageous, Gentle Reader may have forgotten how eager politicians were last year to find someone to blame when the pain at the pumps was off the charts.

The usual congressional investigation was hastily called, the usual outrage expressed, and the usual suspicions voiced with the usual lack of any economic effect. Then the political ritual was concluded, prices fell in the normal course of economic events, and few now ask whether there was anything to all that talk. It's a question worth asking as a lesson in politics — and economics.

Mark Pryor, the junior senator from Arkansas, was one of those making roundhouse accusations back then. In search of the nearest scapegoat for high oil prices, he settled for the same old one: dastardly Big Oil. The senator was out to protect us, so he said, from "the greed and profiteering in the oil marketplace" — not to mention economic literacy.

So what happened? Even though Sen. Pryor joined a number of his colleagues in trying to bully the Federal Trade Commission into cooking up some evidence to back up his conspiracy theory, all the FTC could do was reach the same conclusion it usually does: There was no substance to his charges.

Once again the bogeyman turns out to be nothing more sinister than the law of supply and demand. Sure enough, when supply dwindles and demand goes up, so do prices. Big surprise.

But every time gas prices go up, a certain kind of politician is shocked, shocked! Or at least pretends to be. And demands an investigation. Which is a lot easier than taking Economics 101 all over again.

Naturally the politician blames some vague, amorphous monster out there like Big Oil rather than the real-life owner-operator of your neighborhood filling station. After all, the little guy votes.

And it's too much trouble to think this thing through — as Henry Hazlitt did in his dandy little primer, "Economics in One Lesson."

To quote Mr. Hazlitt, "we cannot hold the price of any commodity below its market level without in time bringing about two consequences. The first is to increase the demand for that commodity. Because the commodity is cheaper, people are both tempted to buy, and can afford to buy, more of it. The second consequence is to reduce the supply of that commodity. Because people buy more, the accumulated supply is more quickly taken from the shelves of merchants. But in addition to this, production of that commodity is discouragedů."

Gosh, just like gasoline last year.

If there's an avaricious cartel setting oil-and-gas prices, it's called OPEC. But oil sheikhs and Venezuelan caudillos are scarcely subject to a congressional investigating committee.

If there's a conspiracy at work here, it's the dismal science itself — economics. It's been refuting demagogues ever since they've been taking advantage of our anger, suspicion and ignorance. Hey, somebody's got to be blamed when we're unhappy. Especially somebody rich and powerful. What better scapegoat than Big Oil?

The art and science of economics may never be as simple or dramatic as Mark Pryor's populist rhetoric. But the study of economics may have the great advantage of clarifying things rather than hopelessly muddling them. Attached as we all may be to our own favorite conspiracy theory, along comes an actual investigation, and it goes poof. Which is just what's happened, again, to Mark Pryor's.

To quote the latest report from the FTC's investigators, whose prose isn't exactly scintillating: "The 2006 price increases were caused by a confluence of factors reflecting the normal operation of the market."

Aw shucks. And just when we were getting the tar and feathers ready for those oil executives.

And what were the factors that drove gas prices higher last summer? Among them, greater demand for fuel by vacationers (another big surprise), the still lingering effects of hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) that shut down refineries along the Gulf Coast, reduced oil refining capacity as producers switched to ethanol, and, as you might have expected, greater demand for both crude oil and ethanol. What, no conspiracy? How boring.

Once again the FTC found no evidence that gas prices were being manipulated by some sinister cabal in this country's boardrooms. Despite Senator Pryor's demand for more government regulation of gas prices (shades of Jimmy Carter's long lines back in the '70s), the FTC couldn't come up with any facts to support him.

This isn't the first time a sleek conspiracy theory has run aground on the rocky shore of fact. To quote Joseph Simons, a former director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition: "The FTC has looked at the same phenomenon, which occurs almost every year, year after year, and they get the same result. Why people think it's going to come out any different the next time is unclear. It's a waste of taxpayers' money."

But it's not a waste of ambitious politicians' efforts. They get to posture before the cameras and demand ACTION! — even if it's precisely the wrong kind.

The pols may be wrong again and again, year after year, but think of the advantages. They're able to strike while public anger is at its zenith, appease their louder and less thoughtful constituents, and they never have to say they're sorry by the time gas prices fall and the public's interest in the subject has waned. (Somehow they never get around to demanding a probe when gas prices go down.)

That's the way it is with wild accusations; the facts may never catch up. Or if they do, the story is relegated to the business section. Ho hum.

The price of gasoline may rise and fall and rise again, like that of any other commodity, but the market for demagoguery remains remarkably stable.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

Paul Greenberg Archives

© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.