Obama And The Democrats Are Economically Ignorant
Lately, speculators have come under attack by Barack Obama. The president blames them for raising prices on oil and gasoline, and he has proposed new restrictions on oil traders. But this is a wrong turn on the road to a healthy economy.
Back in 1958, onion farmers were concerned that speculators were taking advantage of them. They were especially concerned about the extreme volatility of onion prices, which could often double in a short period of time and then drop to a level below the cost of production. Farmers aimed their ire at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the principal futures market for commodities. They thought if futures trading in onions was banned then speculators would not create so much price volatility and farmers would benefit. At the behest of Congressman Gerald Ford (R-Mich.), Congress banned futures trading in onions—the only commodity for which trading is prohibited by law.
Four years after the ban, Stanford agricultural economist Roger Gray examined the impact on onion prices. He found that, contrary to the farmers’ expectations, onion price volatility had actually increased. Gray compared onion price volatility into four periods: 1922-41, a period in which there was no futures trading; 1942-49, when futures trading was only developing; 1949-58, an era when futures trading was robust; and 1958-62 when futures trading was banned.
Gray’s analysis showed conclusively that onion price volatility was far greater during the period when futures trading was undeveloped or nonexistent than during the period when it was robust. This is exactly the result predicted by economic theory. As Gray put it, “An organized futures market widens the opportunity to buy a commodity during the harvest surplus and sell it for later delivery, hence the diminution of in seasonal price range was to be expected on a priori grounds.”