Thursday, June 19, 2008

In Praise of Spectators

Diane Rehm agreed with a caller today that speculators are to blame for rising oil prices. Her guests (J. Robinson West, Athan Manuel, Stephen Power, Chris Oynes) offered no serious dissent and often repeated the concerns that these investors are acting irrationally, irresponsibly, and at the expense of the people.

Yet we should celebrate their acts. By pushing oil up now rather than later, we sooner get an accurate price meaning we sooner get adaptation to that price. As everyone on today's show recognized it takes a long time to move oil from the ground to the pump. Without spectators oil would move up slowly and sometimes dip down, making investments in production far less likely.

It is the job of an investor to gather all the information from all over the world (including places you wouldn't expect) and come up with an unbiased prediction. It's how they earn their livelihoods. That doesn't mean they never panic or are subject to emotions. We're all human after all. But their irrationality is much more rare than the uninformed panic of the voting public.

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