Bring back price controls on gasoline

At a time when the big five oil companies, including Chevron, BP, Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Conoco, made more than $130 billion in profit last year, as CBS reports, and the price at the pump has risen exponentially in recent months, it’s time to consider price controls on gasoline.

And, yes, while big oil reportedly got anywhere from $10 billion to $50 billion in federal subsidies last year alone, the Obama administration’s idea of ending subsidies is a good idea, but it’s not enough. Dismantling the governmental subsidy infrastructure will take time, maybe even a generation, but putting in place price ceilings can happen overnight

In 1941, another war weary Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, created the Office of Price Administration for precisely the same reason, to stop usury, and regulate the cost of gasoline, food, fuel oil, and other commodities. Six years after its establishment, the OPA yielded to the will of big business, and price controls on commodities were eliminated.

Thirty years later, in response to another war, as well as an inflation rate approaching 6%, as PBS reports, a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, imposed a three month wage and price freeze. That same year, 1971, and right before the stock market opened, Nixon announced plans for price controls, a move that was very popular with the public, but one that was also opposed by big business.

Given how vocal the Republican Party is now in their opposition to big government, not a word is said about big business. That is because the Republican Party is synonymous with big business, and their presidential nominee’s claim to fame is his alleged expertise at big business.

The GOP is the party of deficit reduction, but the inflation in the price of gasoline, over the past several months, poses a far graver risk to recovery than the budget deficit and still not a word from the GOP about the profiteering of the oil cartel. Don’t look for a Romney administration to make a move to regulate gas prices, or end subsidies to Shell, BP, and Exxon-Mobil either. To do that, he’d need a personality.

Mitt Romney doesn’t have a personality for a reason. Big business doesn’t want a president with a personality, especially now. Like him or not, Nixon had a personality, and Ronald Reagan had one, too. Ronald Reagan showed he had one, as Politifact notes, by raising the gasoline tax by $3.3 billion in 1982, so think RR for Ronald Reagan when Romney/Ryan talk about how Democrats want to raise taxes.

And, where does this leave the little guy? After the Chevron oil refinery explosion in Richmond, California, two weeks ago, the price of gasoline rose 15 cents a gallon overnight. If there’s an oil refinery in Richmond, why was the price of gasoline twenty miles away so high in the first place? Price gouging, and the kind of price gouging two presidents, from opposite sides of the aisle, tried to contain.

Since oil is being traded as a commodity, it’s time that oil be treated as a commodity. It’s time to put in place legislation that will penalize speculation in the oil markets. It’s time to follow FDR’s example, and bring back price controls on gasoline.

Jayne Lyn Stahl is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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