Congress has become obsessed with reigning in the oil speculation market.

Which would be just dandy if oil speculation had any real effect on oil pricing. But it doesn’t:

(T)hese bets do not affect the price of oil any more than bets on a football match affect the result.

Scapegoating. It’s fun for everyone.

Update: Reader (I have those now?) Jake Krohn pointed me to this New Yorker piece which echoes The Economist:

The difficulty for Congress, of course, is that none of the problems that have driven up the price of oil lend themselves to a quick fix, and most, like the boom in global demand and the inaccessibility of certain oil fields, aren’t under our control at all. That’s what makes speculators a perfect target: by going after them, Congress can demonstrate to voters that it understands their pain, and at the same time avoid doing anything that might require real sacrifice from Americans.

I’m all for Congress doing ultimately useless, but largely symbolic things. What worries me is that their insistence on finding a scapegoat during an election year may make things worse. As The Economist points out:

Any attempt to curtail speculation, by contrast, is likely to make life harder for firms and oil more expensive.