Reports of price gouging are coming in from everywhere but never fear, the tribunes of the people are out in force. Senator Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican, resolute and bold, has put the world on notice that, "Our job is to make sure that price gouging, and unfair profiteering and unconscionable profiteering, do not take place and especially does not take place as a result of the hurricane." Give it up for Pete.
In a society that has a free market fetish, if not a religion, what is price gouging? Is nine percent profit gouging the price? Or 15 or 50 percent? At what price point does profit change into gouged profit?
Some more questions for the stout legislative defenders of our pocket books. Is there a distinction between "unfair profiteering" and "unconscionable profiteering?" Would profits of 80 percent or less be merely unfair and those over that figure be unconscionable? And since when has the Republican party injected the existence of conscience or lack thereof into the free market?
How are business persons, brought up to get the most return on their money, to answer these questions? Should every gasoline station owner get him or herself a Talmudic scholar or a moral theologian or a Biblical exegete or a mufti to advise him when he changes the big white numbers on his sign? Maybe prayer and meditation, rather than calculating what the market will bear, should be the preferred way of setting the price?
After decades and decades of telling everyone through every available medium beginning with kindergarten picture books the unfettered action of the free market is the highest and best way to get any and everything done, are business persons now to get whopped in public for obeying the free market's rules or lack thereof?
Nothing will come of Pete's outburst. Enough gouged oil company dollars will be slipped into enough senatorial hands to make sure of that. Enough unfair profits will find their way to where they will do the most good to protect any sudden Republican assaults on the free market. So what about Senator Pete's words of warning? Call them a form of public confidence gouging. Call it unconscionable political blather, but don't call the cops. They won't come.