As gasoline prices kept soaring last week, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal campaigned for re-election by declaring that oil companies are making too much money and the government should seize half their profits and give the money back to gas buyers.
Through most of his 37 years in elective office, 20 of them as Connecticut’s attorney general, Blumenthal has been railing at Big Oil without much result, perhaps because most of his railing has been demagogic scapegoating. Last week’s episode was the worst, because the real culprit is the national administration of which the senator is a part.
Big Oil is not a charitable operation but then neither does it control the price of its product, which trades in a sometimes volatile international market. In his scapegoating last week Blumenthal failed to note that two years ago, amid the virus epidemic, the industry was in disarray and oil futures contracts actually fell to negative value.
Last week Blumenthal accused the oil companies of “unconscionable profiteering” by paying dividends and bonuses and purchasing their own shares instead of investing in new production. But why would anyone in the United States invest in new oil production when, since the day he took office, President Biden has been trying to destroy the industry in the name of climate policy, discouraging oil production long before alternative energy sources can replace oil at a price most people can afford?
Instead of reviving domestic production the president is begging OPEC countries to produce more, which would increase this country’s dependence on foreign sources for the most strategic commodity.
Any administration concerned about national security and prosperity might have noticed by now that U.S. oil refining capacity is in decline and might have done something about it. No major refinery has been built in the country for almost 50 years.
Instead Biden administration policy, supported by Blumenthal, is essentially an invitation to oil companies to settle for making their money from government-induced scarcity.
Government policy of curtailing oil production isn’t the only reason for the frightening spike in gas prices. Of course inflation has been pushing nearly all prices way up, and inflation is caused mainly by another federal government policy — grossly excessive money creation, which is outpacing not just the production of the U.S. economy but the production of the whole world, for which the dollar serves as the main reserve currency.
The goodies being distributed by elected officials at all levels are being financed not by direct taxes but by inflation — currency devaluation — an indirect and dishonest but still heavy tax. As he travels Connecticut with other Democratic officeholders claiming credit for these goodies, Blumenthal has not drawn their connection with inflation, and journalism obligingly has failed to hold him and his colleagues to account for it.
Aspiring to advance himself by imitating Blumenthal’s scapegoating, state Attorney General William Tong noted in April the suspension of Connecticut’s gas tax and with great fanfare urged state residents to contact his office with complaints about “price gouging” at gas stations.
But last week, without fanfare, Tong’s office admitted that while more than 200 complaints had been received, it had discovered no “gouging.”
No matter. For Tong, who also is seeking re-election this year, had already given people the strong impression that business is to blame for rising prices and distracted them from government’s own responsibility.
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ARROGANCE WITH RAISES: At the last minute during its session this spring and without a proper public hearing, the General Assembly voted to raise the base salary of state legislators by $12,000, from $28,000 to $40,000 per year, and to give big raises to the top state constitutional officers as well.
Legislative pay had not increased for 21 years and the low salaries have discouraged many people from seeking election, so raises were in order.
But in addition to minimizing public participation in the issue, the legislature got too arrogant. The raise legislation provides for regular raises arising from an inflation index, which, as a practical matter, will remove the salary issue from politics forever, reducing accountability in state government.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.