Paul Greenberg

Who says the news is always bad? It's just that a discouraged editor on the night shift or a reader picking up her paper from the doorstep next morning may have to search for the good news between outbreaks of the other kind. Sometimes it helps to just pause and notice what's not there anymore, what's missing. Like any mention of what used to be a sad staple of the news, decade after decade: the Energy Crisis.

Energy Crises used to come as regularly as flu seasons, some years or whole eras worse than others. Let's see, there was the Energy Crisis of 1973 and of 1979 and of the years in between and after ... till the whole era, aka the Carter Years, might as well have been one long Energy Crisis. Why? Largely because each successive wave of shortages was only aggravated by government-supplied remedies that were going to cure them -- from price controls to tighter regulations on the oil industry and on a once free market.

Daniel Yergin is one of the more prescient students of the oil industry, and of the American economy in general. He's one expert whose analyses have proven so reliable over the years that they almost restore the once assuring connotations of the word Expertise, which has acquired a suspect sound over the years. And no wonder. One after another, the experts' "solutions" for the Energy Crisis did nothing but make it worse.

Looking back at all those failed panaceas, Mr. Yergin offered this summary and diagnosis of that whole, sad, failed era:

"A lasting lesson of the crisis years is the power of markets and their ability to adjust to disruptions, if government allows them to. The iconic images of the 1970s -- gas lines and angry motorists -- are trotted out whenever some new disruption happens. Yet those gas lines weren't the result of markets. They were the largely self-inflicted result of government interference in markets with price controls and supply allocation. Today, the oil market is much more transparent owing to the development of futures markets.

"The 1970s were also years of natural-gas shortages, which turned into a bitter political issue, particularly within the Democratic Party. Many at the time attributed these shortages to geology, but they, too, were the result of regulation and price controls. What solved the shortages wasn't more controls but their elimination, which resulted in an oversupply that became known as the 'gas bubble.' Today, abundant natural gas is the default fuel for new electricity generation. The lesson is that markets and price signals can work very efficiently, and surprisingly swiftly, even in crises, if they are allowed to."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.