There’s a story on CNN at the moment about the possibility of opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The SPR is a pool (ha ha) of oil that is available to help with temporary breaks in oil supply, to prevent short-term shocks to the economy. It is not intended to smooth out natural market fluctuations, or lower prices when the market gets a bit carried away. It looks like the Bush administration is abiding by these principles with their announcement that they are considering tapping the reserve in the wake of the hurricane damage in Florida, and they are to be commended for it.
So far so dull. But it got me thinking about the level of scheming that goes on in politics Here’s a scenario I just made up; it is in no way backed by any fact or inside gossip, it’s purely designed to illustrate a point:
Bush would like oil prices to come down near the election to show (rightly or wrongly) that economic conditions are improving. He said earlier in the year that he wouldn’t do that by tapping the SPR, for the reasons outlined above. Between that statement and the election, of course, lay hurricane (and tornado) season, so it was a fair bet that there would be some incident that could be played as a reason to open the reserves. By waiting for that event, Bush could get more of an election-day effect from resultant price drops, and without doing anything overtly manipulative.
Here are the things that slimed me out about such an idea. First, it is entirely plausible; in fact I can’t think of a major leader who wouldn’t consider this. Worse, it’s actually pretty mild; all Bush had to do was make sure he emphasized his level-headed, strategic viewpoint at the beginning, then reap all the rewards later on. Compared to some of the things that politicians are rumored to do it’s practically virtuous. Nonetheless it’s still orders of magnitude more slimy than anything I would do (in my comfortable middle-class life).
After mulling that over, I started to think about the praciticalities of implementing such a conspiracy. Naturally that starts with the basic idea, where there are four basic choices:
1.The President comes up with it, keeps it to himself, and steers events as necessary. Slimy, but not totally slimy.
2. The President comes up with it, shares it with his chums, and they agree to steer events between them. Slimy
3. Somebody else comes up with the idea, the President doesn’t know, events are nonetheless steered as necessary. Slimy and worrying.
4. Somebody else comes up with the idea, the President agrees, and everyone steers events. Beyond slimy.
Again, this could happen with just about any politician. The people who run your country. It’s a rather unnerving thought, not least because I’d always sort of assumed better.