"I believe there needs to be a thorough and complete investigation of speculators to find out whether speculation has been going on and, if so, how much it has affected the price of a barrel of oil. There's a lot of things out there that need a lot more transparency and, consequently, oversight."
Those are the words of presidential candidate John McCain. This man is the Republican?
"I am very angry, frankly, at the oil companies not only because of the obscene profits they've made but at their failure to invest in alternate energy to help us eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. They're making huge profits and that happens, but not to say, 'We're in this so we can over time eliminate America's dependence on foreign oil,' I think is an abrogation of their responsibilities as citizens."
Let me get this straight. A potential president of a putatively free country scolds companies for "obscene profits," failure to invest in competing products, and therefore irresponsible citizenship. Why? Is McCain running for national economic commissar?
This is not the first time McCain has displayed what I would call an anti-capitalist mentality. In an early presidential debate he countered former businessman Mitt Romney's claim to superior executive experience by saying, "I led the largest squadron in the U.S. Navy, not for profit but for patriotism".
Why the put down of profit?
It's clear McCain does not understand how markets work or why they are good. He certainly doesn't understand the role of speculators and other middlemen. He's not alone. Speculators are among the most reviled people in history. When they were members of ethnic minorities, they have been easy targets for economically illiterate people who were jealous of their success.
McCain wonders "whether speculation has been going on." He needn't wonder. Speculation always goes on. Speculation means to take a risk on what the future holds in hopes of making a profit. The world's stock and commodities markets are based on this principle. Sen. McCain must have meant it when he said, "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues".
I doubt that speculators are responsible for much of the run-up of oil prices. Why didn't they run them up sooner? Besides, there are too many other explanations: increased demand from China and India, the declining dollar and Middle East tensions.