Thomas Sowell

 Yet there was Senator Boxer on nationwide TV, decrying the high salaries of oil company executives, who are making perhaps half of what a number of baseball players make or a tenth of what movie stars make. The insinuation is that their salaries and oil company profits are what drive up gasoline prices. But there were no hard facts to back up either insinuation.

 Given the enormous sums of money involved in the production of oil, even if all the oil company CEOs worked for nothing, there is no hard evidence that this would be enough to reduce the price of gasoline by even one cent per gallon. As for oil company profits -- representing "greed," as the Barbara Boxers call it -- these profits per gallon of gas are much less than federal taxes per gallon of gas. But the government is never called "greedy" by liberals.

 These political circuses have a cost that can be even greater than the high cost of gasoline.

 We went through all this before, back in the 1970s, when oil company executives were also hauled up before Congress and denounced on TV by politicians. Inflammatory but vague and unsubstantiated charges went flying hither and yon in the media.

 This demonization of oil companies made it politically inconvenient to remove price controls on oil when other price controls from the Nixon administration years were repealed.

 The net result was that the shortages which price controls produce disappeared for other things but remained for gasoline. Motorists had trouble finding gasoline and sometimes spent hours waiting in long lines at filling stations. This was the hidden cost of political demagoguery.

 Anyone nostalgic for those days of waiting in gasoline lines, which sometimes reached around the block, can jump on the bandwagon for gasoline price controls or other laws to crack down on "Big Oil." Just be aware that there is a cost. There is no free lunch -- and no free demagoguery.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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