The title of this New York Times article today says it all: “Truckers in Maine, Feeling High Costs of Diesel Fuel, Urge State to Intervene.”
Rising diesel fuel prices are hurting truckers, no doubt, just like rising jet fuel prices have hindered airlines seeking to regain profitability after the 9/11 shock. And rising gasoline prices have put a dent into the budgets of most Americans.
But it’s not the government’s fault — directly, at least. The U.S. should explore the Outer Continental Shelf and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. It should adjust the inefficient environmental regulations that segment the gasoline market. It should trim regulatory barriers to refinery construction. It should stop wasting money on ethanol and similar special interest fuels, etc., etc.
But the government should not intervene in the marketplace to push down prices. (In fairness to Maine’s truckers, the two remedies specified in the Times are suspending the state diesel tax of 26 cents a gallon and federal road weight limits, which make sense. But the clamor for gasoline price controls was clear and overwhelming.) The obvious practical reason is that politicians and bureaucrats will muck up the job. But there’s an equally important point of principle: Manipulating markets to help out individuals, interest groups, industries, communities, and whatever other grouping shows up to lobby isn’t government’s job.
Government should create a just and efficient framework for a free society, and get out of the way. Then the rest of us will have to accept the good and ill that comes from exercising that liberty.