Those who defend sudden gas-price hikes completely lack common sense

Alfred Nobel had three brothers. Emil blew himself up while working with the nitroglycerine that would help make Alfred a very rich man for his ultimate invention of dynamite. Another one, Ludvig, was a bigshot in the rich Baku oil fields in what is now Azerbaijan. When Ludvig died suddenly, a newspaper in Paris mistakenly ran the obituary for brother Alfred. Afforded the rare opportunity to read his own obituary, Alfred was shocked to see that he was referred to as the "angel of death" and the bringer of the greatest destructive force known to mankind.

Nobel then rewrote his will, less than a year before his death in 1895. In that last will, he left the bulk of his enormous fortune (including a hefty stake in Baku) to fund the awarding of prizes to those whose advances in a variety of fields benefit the people of the world.

Oddly enough, he left specific instructions not to award a prize in mathematics. Some say that he just wasn't all that fond of math, but the prevailing folklore (never really proven nor disproved) is that the lifelong bachelor's mistress, Sophie Hess, was taking a second derivative with Gosta Mittag-Leffler, one of the better-known mathematicians of the day.

It would have been fine if it had just been left that way, but after several decades, the Nobel Committee, awash in compounded interest and handcuffed by Alfred's instructions, decided to award a prize in economics. This, of course, is like saying, "Well, we can't give one out in astronomy, so we'll award one in astrology instead. They kinda sound alike."

And thus was the abomination known as economics accorded ever so slight a patina of respectability. But be it known that it is neither math nor science, but rather a cauldron of crapola concocted to explain away the shenanigans that the rich and powerful visit upon the lower classes with stunning and brutal regularity.

It most certainly is not physics, which follows certain laws. If one has a ball in his hand and lets it go, it is going to fall earthward. It's going to fall the same way whether the person who was holding the ball is greedy or altruistic, whether people in other parts of the world are nervous or giddy, or whether a storm blew through another part of the country the previous month. Neither is it math, where two plus two is always four, unless the Congressional Budget Office is involved.

A few friends of mine (including my radio co-host, Emil Franzi), otherwise reasonable and intelligent people, cling to economics as though it were somehow more reliable than, say, a mood ring. They swear that it's perfectly understandable for a batch of petroleum, already in a pipeline, that has been bought and paid for at a certain price, to all of a sudden double in price without ever leaving the pipeline. They claim that there is no price gouging going on and that nobody in the entire oil chain is getting rich off the doubling of gasoline prices in a matter of months. They claim that all that extra money just disappears, like flatulence in the wind.

To hear these clowns talk, I could buy a pack of Twinkies at the Circle K for $1.29. But while I'm on my way home, if the Twinkie plant back east blew up (with fake whipped cream all over the landscape), then, all of a sudden, the Twinkies on my front seat would cost $4? I don't think so. Maybe the next pack will, but that doesn't mean that I have to turn around and go give the Circle K more money for the original pack just to help the supplier raise prices and make more money.

The most egregious clown thus far is Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb. (First off, his parents should be thrashed for sticking him with that tag. I don't know one person with a double name--Duran Duran, Sirhan Sirhan, Rob Robb--who has even a lick of sense.) Robb takes Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard to task for even daring to suggest that something is amiss. (Of course, Goddard's investigation into price gouging will go nowhere, but it's good that he's even trying.) Robb further wants us all to embrace higher prices, not because it will nudge automakers and SUV drivers in the right direction, but because it will make the oil companies stronger.

If it is still legal to shoot looters, what should the punishment be for those who use the massive tragedy to further fatten their Swiss bank accounts and feather the nests of their cronies? If you steal $200, you get a mug shot. But if you steal $200 million, you get your picture on the cover of Forbes.

And Emil and all the other economists, amateur and even-more amateur, will leap into the breach with theories and "data" designed to convince us that we should be grateful for having been given the old greased pole one more time.

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