Oil rigRadley Balko says:

We Americans seem to think we have a right to cheap gas. There is no such right. Like anything else sold on the free market, the gas at the station pump belongs to someone else, at least until it falls into your tank and you swipe your credit card. From extraction, to processing and refining, to retail sale, someone owned the oil in your car at every step of its manufacture. And each owner was free to put whatever price on the stuff he pleased. You have no more right to cheap gas than you have to cheap bananas, or a cheap iPhone. This notion that cheap gas is part of our national heritage has been both nurtured and exploited by politicians, despite the fact that there’s little they can do—or should do—to make it so.

Balko is correct, of course, that we have no right to cheap fuel. Libertarians like ourselves are well used to pointing out when people have misconstrued or misrepresented rights, or made up rights that don’t exist. Every owner at every stage of the process of taking oil from the ground, refining it and putting it in my gas tank deserves to profit from the deal. That’s capitalism, and it’s a wonderful thing.

But it does not follow that “…there’s little [politicians] can do … to make it [cheap].” At the current time, politicians are standing in the way of the free market in many ways. They’re holding on to oil reserves; that isn’t in the remit of government. They’re blocking the building of new refineries; that isn’t in the remit of government. They’re withholding vast quantities of American oil and preventing oil companies from fairly leasing it for production; that isn’t in the remit of government either.

Balko goes on to make the point that the higher prices of gas are forcing changes in our behavior and thus the market is doing its job. That’s true, and the process will continue until there’s no more oil to be had and we’re all driving something else. But the fact is that we have plenty more oil to go around. The idea that we’ve come upon the end of the era of cheap oil is hogwash. The government is standing in the way of those who want to use it, and thus, in a very real way, politicians can do something to improve the economy, and that is to turn American oil over to the American market.

As Newt Gingrich has pointed out, this isn’t an either/or option, it’s a both/and solution. We don’t have to choose between high gas prices with alternative fuels on the one hand and drilling for oil without an ‘exit strategy’ on the other. The market provides. And it’s amply capable of providing both the cheap oil the economy has come to rely on in the short-term and the new forms of fuel that will open up a plethora of new economic opportunities in the future.

But the government must first get out of the way.