Welcome Back, Carter. Nixon, Too

Tom Finnerty24 May, 2022 2 Min Read
Did somebody say "price controls"?

It's almost a cliché at this point to mention this similarities between Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter. Not that that's stopped us, nor will it when the observation is accurate. But it is worth pointing out that the president isn't the only elected official who seems hell bent on recreating America's most disastrous decade since the close of the Second World War, that is, the 1970s.

The House's Democratic majority overcame some internal opposition to pass legislation on [May 19] addressing high gas prices by cracking down on possible price gouging from oil companies. The bill was approved along party lines in a vote of 217-207. Four Democrats -- Texas' Lizzie Fletcher, Jared Golden of Maine, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Kathleen Rice of New York -- joined all Republicans in the chamber in voting against the legislation.

The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., would give the president the authority to issue an energy emergency proclamation that would make it unlawful for companies to increase fuel prices to "unconscionably excessive" levels.

"The problem is Big Oil is keeping supply artificially low so prices and profits stay high. Now I think that when the market is broken, that's when Congress has to step in to protect American consumers," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing on Monday. "And that's what this bill does: It empowers the FTC to go after the gougers and empowers the agency to effectively monitor and report on market manipulation."

If you're old enough to have watched Rhoda or owned a record by Bread, this move might sound familiar to you. That's because the Nixon administration introduced price controls on gasoline and other consumer goods in the early '70s, while regulations grew up to strangle the expansion of the oil and gas industry throughout the decade. It was a spectacular failure, as anyone with any grasp on basic economics could have predicted. That's why one of the most recognizable images of the decade -- right up there with with the Bee Gees and John Travolta on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack -- is motorists lined up for miles waiting for gasoline.

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The president of the United States is nearly 80 years old, the speaker of the House is 82, as is the House majority leader, while the Senate majority leader is a comparatively sprightly 71. They were all adults in the 1970s. Indeed, they were all working in politics at the time. You'd think they would remember what a disaster it all was. Isn't the purported advantage of a gerontocracy that the agèd rulers would be able to recall the mistakes of the past and, more importantly, how to avoid repeating them? Perhaps President Biden isn't the only powerful person in a state of cognitive decline.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.

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