So Much For Another Conspiracy Theory

Remember all those media reports about the possible "political motivation" behind falling gas prices ahead of the election?  Supposedly oil companies were somehow manipulating gas prices ahead of the election to help Republicans win the election.  This was not a wacky Internet fringe thing -- network news anchors and newspapers like the WaPo and the NYT speculated about it, and not just on their editorial pages.

Well, you and I may remember, but apparently no major media outlet who ran this story remembers what they said.  Because I have not seen a single follow-up story after the election.  Surely, if gas and oil prices were being manipulated down before the election, they would quickly spike back up to their "natural" levels after the election.  But of course, the whole theory was insane to begin with.  To suppose that a few US oil companies, who for all their size are still small players in the world oil markets, could manipulate US commodity prices for any sustained period of time is absurd.  And even if they were successful, the cost would be astronomical (just ask the Hunt family who bankrupted themselves trying to manipulate the silver market).

So I will do the follow-up story.  It turns out that oil and gas prices were falling before the election because ... oil and gas prices are falling.  From the WSJ on Jan 9:

Oil prices dropped $1.69 to $54.40 a barrel early Tuesday as warm
weather in the Northeast continued to hurt demand for heating fuel. The
slide comes on top of last week's 7.8% pullback in crude, which briefly
took prices below $55 a barrel, their lowest level since June 2005.

From Business Week on Jan 8:

Wholesale gasoline prices have been falling for the past few weeks,
noted Jason Schenker, an economist with Wachovia Corp. He expects
retail gasoline prices to fall further; he forecasts a dime-sized
decline this week compared to last, with the per-gallon price dipping
to $2.25 from $2.35.

People often wonder why so many wild and weird conspiracy theories seem to thrive nowadays.  I am sure there are many social and psychological reasons.  But surely one reason is that the media seems incredibly willing to go front page with credulous stories of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories, and then never revisit them when they are proved absurd.  Its telling to me that it was left to Popular Mechanics, rather than the WaPo or the NYTimes, to publish to one authoritative debunking of 9/11 conspiracy silliness.


  1. Stephen Macklin:

    And where are all the people who scream about price gouging when prices spike during a prolonged cold spell. You know the ones who refuse to believe that the weather has any effect on demand, and that demand has any effect on supply and that anything other that an evil plot has any effect on price?

  2. markm:

    Last night, I filled up at $2.19/gallon. IIRC, that's the lowest price in 6 months.

  3. Rob:

    Prices are still low because "they" didn't want to make it so obvious that "they" were trying to get Republicans elected. I'm sure I will be contacted by "them" very soon for revealing "their" plot.

    If you do a quick Google on the topic of conspiracies, many times they stem from not understanding (or being able to explain to oneself) how something happened. Obviously it's easy for many liberals to think there is an oil price conspiracy because they simply don't (or refuse to) understand
    the complex economic system (and that it's not a zero sum game)

  4. Thomas:

    I have a theory that Joseph Campbell is right that modern myths still exist and have been transformed. That in the modern age the conspiracy theory is the modern version of myth. Especially for those who have made politics their person religion (obviously with a certain lack of reason). It's easier to believe in these conspiracy theories(myths) than that the world is a random place and gives order much like religion and myth have over time.

  5. stinker:

    Be sure to check out the book “Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory” due out in March by Dr. David Ray Griffin.