In last night's townhall presidential debate, the second question asked from the audience was:
Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?
Both candidates answered with typical nonsense standard talking points that effectively avoided the question. Here is how I would have answered:
The role of the government is not to judge whether prices are too high or too low and then arbitrarily try to lower or raise them based on our opinion. The role of the government in markets is twofold: 1) ensure that markets are operating efficiently and 2) ensure that all citizens are able maintain a minimum standard of living so that they may actively participate in those effficently working markets.
With regard to the first point, prices contain signals. The governments role is to ensure that the policies in place allow markets to effectively adjust so as to reflect the right signals, the signals that maximize the well-being of society as a whole. If the market is operating in such a way that the signals provided by the prices reflect a misallocation of society's scarce resources, then absolutely the government has a role in establishing policies that correct the failure of the market to do its job. But if the market is accurately reflecting the full costs and benefits of all production and consumption decisions, then the government needs to step aside and let the prices signal what they need to signal.
As to the second point, the ability of citizens to maintain a minimum standard of living is obviously subjective and depends on how you define 'fair.' This is where me and my opponent differ. The problem with trying to establish a 'fair' set of prices is that the definition of fair depends on who you ask.
Do I support equal access to economic opportunity by all?
Do I support artificial manipulation of prices to achieve that goal?
Somehow I don't think I will ever be president.