By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order on Tuesday prohibiting price gouging on gasoline and diesel, a CYA political move arguably as pointless as the Democrat’s time in office.
Tough-talking Tony asserts the emergency order will help prevent “bad actors from taking advantage of Wisconsin drivers as they fill up…”
The governor says “National inflation” is causing the cost of everyday household goods and prices at the pumps to go up. State and local inflation are, too.
Contrary to liberals’ “corporate greed” talking points, many economists say anti-gouging orders and laws are aimed at solving a problem that doesn’t exist. But they sure make for loud politics.
At levels not seen in more than 40 years, soaring prices are in no small way related to the kind of extreme energy policies President Biden, Evers and their fellow Democrats in control have been pushing. Through their versions of the Green New Deal, Evers and Biden have declared war on fossil fuels. The message has been received loud and clear by oil and gas producers, who promptly began dialing back on exploration.
In the span of Biden’s 17 months in office, the United States has gone from being a net exporter of petroleum to a net importer, according to his own Energy Information Administration.
Biden called the pain at the pump “an incredible transition” from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy. Such assertions aren’t sitting well with Americans saddled with soaring prices.
So, as motorists nationally are paying an average of nearly $5 per gallon of regular gasoline and $4.83 per gallon in Wisconsin, Democrats in control are injuring their digits with all the phony finger-pointing they’ve been doing.
Evers has again turned to blaming businesses.
In his latest emergency order, Evers prohibits wholesalers and retailers from selling gas or diesel “at unreasonably excessive prices.” The governor doesn’t put a number on that. Most motorists will say the record-smashing gasoline prices over the past couple of months are “unreasonably excessive,” but that doesn’t mean price gouging is in play.
Industry officials say they haven’t heard from the Evers administration about incidents of price gouging.
“They’ve said to me, ‘We just need to be prepared. But we don’t yell ‘Fire!’ in the movie theater just in case it might happen,” said Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin grocers association.
“If we had price gouging problems in Wisconsin we would hear not only from the governor, we would hear from the Legislature, Congress, mayors and county board members. We would hear from everybody. We’ve heard from nobody, except from a press release from the governor’s office.”
Industry officials say retailers that engage in price-gouging do so at their own peril. It’s a recipe for disaster in a free-market system.
The Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association blasted Evers’ order, saying it’s ridiculous to blame retailers for high gas prices.
“Retailers are required by state law to post their prices on big signs where a one penny difference can decide whether a retailer gets business or not,” the association said in a press release.
Larry Summers, Treasury Secretary under President Clinton recently told Bloomberg that price-gouging by Democrats is “dangerous rhetoric.” Summers, who also was director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, warned that an anti-gouging bill in congress could lead to shortages.
Evers issued a similar emergency order in the wake of the severe baby formula shortage. Other governors are doing the same on both fronts.
While the executive edicts give the appearance of action benefitting the consumer, economists argue they are counterproductive. According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, anti-gouging orders:
Encourage Hoarding: Those lucky enough to be at the front of the line tend to buy more than they really need. These “just-in-case” purchases — an extra loaf of bread or perhaps filling up both cars with gas — exacerbate a shortage. In contrast, doubling the price will make customers think twice about buying another gallon of milk, for example, thus leaving supply for those who didn’t arrive at dawn.
Discourage Businesses from Boosting Supplies: If prices are capped, there’s little incentive for businesses to hustle to increase supplies. It’s costly to find and transport extra products in hazardous conditions. If these extra costs eat up the profit associated with a fixed retail price, Adam Smith’s invisible hand won’t work; there’s no financial carrot. As a society, we want incentives, for instance, that divert gas tanker trucks from neighboring unaffected states to disaster areas where fuel is in short supply.
Scholz said he’s suspicious there’s more politics than economics involved in Evers’ executive order.
“There has been no communication with the governor on the gas or baby formula anti-gouging orders, which leads me to wonder what triggered this,” he said. “You would think that a discussion with stakeholder organizations that are deeply involved in monitoring and setting prices would be involved.”
More so, when was the last time the governor had to personally worry about the price of gas? Does he ask the Wisconsin State Patrol officers who chauffeur him around how much it costs to fill up the taxpayer-funded vehicle at his disposal?