Bill Murchison

We may not know precisely, we Americans, what we want the next president to do about energy prices. What we shouldn't want him -- or her -- to do is as plain as a gasoline pump primed to deliver at 3-bucks-plus per gallon.

Some might consider getting down on hands and knees for this one: Please, oh, please, don't try regulating us into the kind of "solution" that solves nothing. A more effective, as well as becoming, alternative, especially if begging and asking nicely don't work, would be a people's march on the White House in opposition to making things worse by seeming to make them better.

Regulation of gasoline prices doesn't work, and, by and large, our politicians know it doesn't work. There's no escaping those remorseless facts.

Why worry at this point about regulation of energy? The numbers on the gasoline pump tell us. Anything over $3 a gallon is bad news, unless we adjust our expectations or start riding bicycles. Then, memories of past government interventions -- the price controls of the '70s and the lines that ensued at the gasoline pump, the "windfall profits" tax on oil profits -- make chillier the sensations moving up and down the spine.

Regulation isn't equivalent to "solution" of anything. It's merely what politicians -- those of a certain mettle, anyway -- always propose when significantly large numbers of voters are pinched and distraught. Like now.

An eternal idea is, kick the companies. Democrats are generally more fluent at this pastime than are Republicans. Since gasoline and heating oil prices commenced their latest run up the mountainside, with oil prices this week trading at record highs in real as well as nominal terms, the "stop it" pressure could become formidable.

Less than a year ago, during an earlier gasoline price surge, Hillary Clinton allowed as how she wanted to "take" the energy industry's profits and "put them into a strategic energy fund that will begin to fund alternative smart energy -- alternative technologies that will begin to move us toward the direction of independence."

We'll want to notice certain things in this claim -- which, by the way, has the power to attract politicians aplenty, even if and when Clinton vacates the presidential field.

One thing to notice is the idea of depriving an industry of its profits on the grounds that such profits are unfair. This has to be considered a major strategy for persuading companies of any kind not to do what's profitable but, rather, what wins government favor.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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