And so it goes today. Never mind that there's no evidence "speculators" - i.e. commodity traders - are doing anything to increase the price of oil. They aren't hoarding it. No one's cornering the market. The speculators make money when the price goes down, and they make money when it goes up. In short, they don't care if oil prices are high or low as long as they guessed correctly.
And that may be the most infuriating part of all this. The speculators don't want high oil prices, but Washington does.
The U.S. government has barred billions of barrels of oil from coming to the market by declaring huge petroleum reserves off-limits to drilling. Uncle Sam stores vast amounts in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in a petro-lockbox for a rainy day now called "election season." Government - at the federal and state levels - drives up pump prices with gas taxes and regulations against increasing refinery capacity.
What's funny is that oil markets are telling many policymakers what they want to hear. Liberals in particular have insisted for years that the world is approaching - or has passed - the point of "peak oil." This is the idea that we've hit the maximum rate of global oil extraction, so the supply will steadily diminish, causing prices to rise. I'm not personally convinced - though Reason magazine's science correspondent, Ronald Bailey, may be right that we've reached the point of "political peak oil," which is to say that various political inefficiencies mean we can't keep up with demand.
Either way, liberals should be rejoicing. High oil prices not only lend credence to the "peak oil" argument that we need to wean off petroleum, they change consumer behavior far more effectively than environmental hectoring. Americans are driving less, taking mass transit more and ditching SUVs for hybrids without (much) benefit of government subsidies. I think we should drill more, but if the goal is to wean America off oil, things couldn't be going better.
With the laudable exception of McCain's economic advisor, former Sen. Phil Gramm, Republicans seem desperate to show they too feel the pain at the pump by piling on the scapegoat.
One hopes that this shoot-the-messenger bipartisanship represents the moment of "peak hypocrisy" in Washington. But few speculators would take that bet.