Saturday, September 30, 2006

On the Road Again: Qui Bono

One of the cool things about running your own online bit of media is that you can run your own retractions, and as a bonus, figure out why you were wrong in the first place, a luxury that most media outlets either cannot or do not engage in. So a while back, part of an Alaskan pipeline was shut down, and some of the big media cast dire predictions of Four Dollar a Gallon Gas. I bit on this as well, and cast aspersions that the whole thing might be political in nature.

So what happened? Gas prices have since fallen like a stunned falcon. About 50 cents here in the Sound, and 70 cents elsewhere. Now, while $2.60 gas is nothing to write home about (indeed, it makes you wistful for the good old days of the energy crisis, when gas topped a buck a gallon and people bought those dorky gascap locks). But the strange thing is, no one has a good reason for why it is dropping.

Its not like that pipeline has mysteriously healed itself. Or that the Middle East is suddenly more stable. Or that China just went solar. Or that the uprooted platforms that Katrina ripped up are suddenly all back. Or that Venezuela has suddenly started liking us. The oil companies say that there is less demand for gas after labor day, but a 20% drop? So naturally, there are news stories about how this price drop is (wait for it) political in nature.

Uh-HUH. Actually both of these are examples of qui bono, which is Latin for "who benefits". If old man Hutchinson turns up dead at the bottom of the stairs, and Young George is his only heir and has been piling up gambling debts, George gets to go to the top of the suspect list. However, qui bono is a valid starting place, not a conclusion. If can give you the likely suspects, but does not conclude that they are therefore guilty just because they are able to get some mileage out of the situation.

The current national administration has done truly horrible and stupid things as a result of the events of 9/11, but that does not therefore mean that they were behind 9/11 - sorry, conspiracy theorists. You have to find the smoking gun, or in the case of the gas story, the dripping pipeline - some other evidence that this was a fix. A meeting, a memo, an informant. More likely factors for the gas price drop is that it was artificially high, propped up by fear and uncertainity in the marketplace, and as things came under control, the price began to drop. Add to that the fact that, with higher prices, the oil companies are getting a lot more attention than they want from the government, and less attention (in the form of sales) from the gas-buying public. That old invisible hand of the marketplace slaps them upside the head, and they respond - not quickly, but they respond.

Similarly, Wal-Mart has just announced that it was getting into cheaper generic drugs. Again, this benefits an administration that has made a complete hash of its medical systems, but it much more likely the result of a large corporation seeing an opportunity than any midnight meetings where the GOP is pleading with big business to cut them a break, else the voters will eat them alive in November.

But that's just what I think this week. Give me some documentation, and I will gladly change my mind again.

More later,