"The skyrocketing price of gas and oil has nothing to do with the fundamentals of supply and demand, and has everything to do with Wall Street firms that are artificially jacking up the price of oil in the energy futures markets. ... (T)he same Wall Street speculators that caused the worst financial crisis since the 1930s through their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior are ripping off the American people again by gambling that the price of oil and gas will continue to go up."
Here we go again. That quote was Sen. Bernie Sanders doing what some always do when the price of oil spikes: complain about speculators. Now, President Obama says he'll investigate them: "We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain." I assume that his new Financial Fraud Enforcement Working Group, like its predecessors, will uncover nothing untoward.
In America, we don't have a free market -- we have a government-saturated economy in which oil companies and other corporations have a cozy relationship with politicians and bureaucrats. That's wrong, but even that can't explain the recent run-up in prices. Oil companies today are no more greedy or clever than they have been all along.
We have to look for a better explanation -- and it isn't hard to find. Demand for oil rises with the growth of China, India and other developing countries. When poor people get a little richer, they buy cars, computers and refrigerators. They burn more fuel to make them and to run them. Rising demand, other things being equal, increases prices.
And other things have not been equal. Japan's nuclear plants are out of commission, and Libya, which accounts for about 2 percent of world oil production, is wracked by civil war. This is small compared to previous disruptions in the region, but it still affects the price.