It is difficult to pick up the paper without reading something about oil prices going up and its effect on the economy. We are feeling the difficulty of $75 fill-ups for vehicles that hardly resemble Hummers. As for the Hummer owners, well quite frankly I have little pity for them. We read about many factors that are contributing to this situation; the higher demand of oil by China and India seems to be cited quite a bit. But there is something strange going on given the suddenly dramatic and quick rise in price. It is not as if China and India came from nowhere and overnight became such major consumers of oil that rapidly!
Not helping matters are the disturbing news stories with recent headlines such as this:
Oil tops $140 after OPEC price prediction. Cartel's president says oil price could top $150 a barrel.
We could do without some of these predications, thank you. It seems that every time some "expert" mentions anything negative about the situation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and indeed oil immediately shoots up in price another few dollars a barrel.
Now I may not be an authority in this field and all I have is the same information that you read in the media, but there are a couple of relevant Jewish principles that I think could remedy the situation somewhat. There is a simple solution to these fluctuations in price every time one of these oil mavens passes gas with his mouth (pun intended). It is based on a verse from a song of King David as recorded in Samuel II 22:27. There he describes attributes and behavior of God that we can learn from:
With the pure, You (God) act purely, but with the corrupt, You act crookedly
People are always worried that they will sink to the same level of an immoral person by mirroring their ways and actions, and this is indeed true most of the time. But there are times when we need to fight fire with fire when dealing with corrupt forces, thereby realigning a situation to where it ought to be. I think this is one of those times. We need some powerful political and financial figures to make loud and clear predications how the oil bubble is about to burst, how the demand for it is dramatically tapering off, and how new alternative energies will soon replace our need for oil.
Just as OPEC makes its dire predictions sending prices skyrocketing, there needs to be some powerful political and financial leaders making counter-predictions to send the prices back down. This actually may not even be in the category of the so-called deceit King David speaks of since these predications and proclamations are not science but mere speculation.
Indeed there has also been much talk about the role of speculators in all of this. NPR reported recently that industry analysts say if not for speculators, oil prices would be half of what they are today. Recently Congress, through the House Energy Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, has been looking into what role speculators may have played in rising gas prices.
This is nothing new, and there have always been those who have tried to take advantage of a bad situation for their personal and selfish gain. One might say that these are the rules of a free market and that may indeed be the case. But the Talmud cites a teaching that speaks of this practice:
Those who hoard produce … or those who distort the market (Rashbam: by causing prices to artificially rise), concerning them Scripture states (Amos 8:4,5) "Hear this, you who swallow the needy and cause the poor of the land to fail: … God has sworn by the Glory of Jacob, 'I shall certainly never forget any of their deeds'.(Bava Basra, 90b)
How all of this will play out is anyone's guess. In the meantime we must do whatever we can to better this situation by any means possible. We must also keep in mind the above Talmudic teaching from the prophet Amos that the Almighty has eyes and ears on all of this and justice shall prevail. It may be bad now and it may even get worse, but perhaps the silver lining is that we will finally find cleaner sources of energy and wean ourselves from Arab oil and all the wealth and power it offers them. Once that happens, imagine what a beautiful world it will be.