Real reason for high gas prices? Government interference with free market

Phyllis Hunsinger

Gasoline prices continue to rise across the United States. Travelers to Denver have reported prices approaching $5 a gallon, while California residents have reported paying between $7 a gallon and $9 a gallon. Consumers are understandably concerned.

Statistica, a leading provider for market and consumer data, reported U.S. gas prices were at the lowest annual average of $2.19 a gallon in 2020. In 2021, the average cost of gas per gallon was $3.01. In 2022, the average cost was $3.95 a gallon. Prices affect consumers, but what affects prices?

Eric Dennis, a senior fellow at the Center for Industrial Progress, calls prices the “language of the economy.” Prices convey knowledge that enables individuals to decide what to produce and how best to produce it. Market prices reveal two conditions: the amount of a given commodity available and how much customers value that commodity in relation to other goods. In other words, supply and demand.

According to “Free Market Revolution” written by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, gasoline prices illustrate the forces of supply and demand. “In an economy where prices are determined by the market, no one has to force customers to use less gasoline or force producers to make more gasoline. Those decisions are made voluntarily.” In a free market, people can satisfy their own interests and modify their behaviors based on the facts of supply and demand conveyed to them through prices.

But what happens when the free market isn’t allowed to function? What happens when government edicts prevent suppliers from producing? How does the market respond when restrictions are placed on the use of products? The results of these interventions lead to the destruction of a free-market economy and government picking winners and losers. This is evident in producing and marketing fossil fuels.

After the Joe Biden administration took office in January 2021, new oil and natural gas lease sales were suspended. The principle of supply and demand was on full display. Gas prices rose. Reuters reported on Aug. 11, 2021, the U.S. government begged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to boost oil output to counter rising gasoline prices. CNN’s Alex Marquardt reported on Oct. 5, 2022, that OPEC made even more cuts to production. Increasing gasoline prices posed a political risk for an administration in “panic mode.” The administration called the OPEC cuts in production unnecessary, a “total disaster” taken as a “hostile act.”

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is designed to reduce the effects of disruptions in supplies of petroleum products. This reserve was tapped to lower prices at the pump before the mid-term elections. Reserves still haven’t been replenished.

It’s ironic when America, with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, is governed by ideologues who deem fossil fuel production off limits, yet beg other countries to supply our demand for oil. Policies to limit domestic oil and gas production are virtue signaling at best. The demand for fossil fuels is huge considering there’s no reliable, cost-effective substitute. In addition to becoming the laughingstock of the world, these not-in-my-backyard policies enrich the coffers of other countries.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas fields average 5.5 years from discovery to first production. Policies restricting production discourage companies from investing in fossil fuel development, limiting supplies demanded by American consumers.

Politicians blame the Russian-Ukrainian war for escalating gasoline prices. Before that, oil and gas companies were accused of price gouging. Never have politicians acknowledged their constant interference in the market is responsible. Banning products, establishing unrealistic criteria and choosing winners and losers are responsible for the shortages and high prices of fossil fuels.

The law of supply and demand holds true even with government interference. Consumers will continue to pay the price for meaningless government disruptions created in the marketplace because they have no choice.