Obama on oil speculators: "That's not the way the market should work." Er, actually...

In all of his class-warmongering glory, President Obama is fond of perpetuating the (intellectually cheap, populist) notion that the activities of the financial class are somehow a zero-sum game. In his eyes, wily and undeservedly affluent business executives only secure their ill-begotten profits at the expense of the little guy, instead of the reality in which everyone is, in fact, better off as a result of the economic growth that comes part and parcel of their actions. Speculators, and oil speculators in particular, get the especially short end of the stick:

The president’s painfully deliberate misrepresentations of his energy policy aside, his insistence that there is no “silver bullet” to bring down energy prices and that “drill, baby, drill” is a slogan only good for a bumper sticker… isn’t really accurate. No, approving the Keystone pipeline or immediately issuing more offshore drilling permits mightn’t flood the available supply with oil directly from those projects for several years to come, but it may result in speculators currently holding onto oil, in anticipation of higher prices later, to instead release it up for sale today.

Speculation is indeed a huge part of any commodities market, but hand-rubbing CEOs aren’t the only ones who benefit from it — even normal, everyday Americans like to grow their own personal wealth through investments in the futures market. The beauty of the free enterprise system is that it’s just a collection of information, translated into prices through trading, and speculators do their best to hedge risk and predict price movements — in the face of the global demand trends and the volatility in the Middle East that the president mentions. Really now, speculators ain’t all that bad, and frankly, targeting them as merely greedy capitalists for short-term political gain isn’t doing anyone any favors (note the president’s Enron reference, gently suggesting that all of this is illicit, eeevil activity).

The chairman of the world’s largest futures exchange recently had some choice words on President Obama’s crusade to punish oil speculation:

Two weeks after President Barack Obama blamed speculators, traders who wager on the future direction of commodity prices, for driving fuel prices higher and urged regulators to be tougher on them, Terry Duffy, the executive chairman of exchange operator CME Group Inc., hit back with a pointed explanation of investors’ role in financial markets.

“People need to study their facts before criticizing speculators,” Mr. Duffy, whose Chicago company is the largest futures exchange by volume, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. He argued that speculators provide vital liquidity to a host of markets.

Last month, the president accused “speculators” of rigging the oil markets, pushing up fuel prices for ordinary Americans. “Rising gas prices means a rough ride for a lot of families,” he said in a speech at the White House. “We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit.”

Mr. Duffy dismissed the criticism, saying that speculators play an important part in financial markets. “When the Dow goes above 13000, Google goes above $600 per share and everybody celebrates, who do you think did that? The U.S. equity market is 100% speculators,” he said.

Mr. Duffy pointed out that the derivatives markets also help the Treasury Department and American taxpayers to save money on the cost of sovereign debt by allowing traders to hedge risks on Treasurys.

Politicians targeting oil speculators is nothing new, just a popular theme that reemerges whenever gas prices start to rise. President Obama’s latest proposed crackdown on speculators is all just a part of the White House’s larger narrative that us dumb consumers need the federal government to “protect us” from the malfeasance of the big, bad financial class, re: Dodd Frank, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, etcetera. Oh, big government — whatever would we do without you?

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