The price of crude oil has jumped as high as $135 lately, up from $87 in early February. The news encouraged some Wall Street analysts to suggest oil might approach $200 before long. In fact, that's quite impossible: The world economy can't handle current energy prices, much less a big increase.
Which in turn means that oil prices will fall. Market analysts often claim oil prices are almost entirely determined by supply. Demand is said to be insensitive ("inelastic") to price. Market analysts often claim oil prices are almost entirely determined by supply. Demand is said to be insensitive ("inelastic") to price. The standard example is that many Americans have to drive to work and most gas-guzzling SUVs will still be on the road even if the affluent few can trade theirs for a Prius. Whatever the price, we'll pay it.
Nine out of 10 previous postwar recessions began shortly after a big spike in the price of oil.
This idea rests on two fallacies. The first is to exaggerate the United States' importance when it comes to ups and downs in worldwide oil demand. In fact, America is using no more oil than we did in 2004.
The second fallacy is to greatly exaggerate the importance of passenger cars in the United States. It's true that Americans are driving less and buying four-cylinder cars - but that's not where we should be looking for serious "demand destruction."
Two-thirds of petroleum in the United States is used for transportation - but half of the transportation sector's fuel flows into commercial trucks, trains, buses, airplanes and ships. As a result, only 44 percent of each barrel of oil is used to produce gasoline in this country, and some of that gasoline fuels business - delivery vans, landscapers' trucks, fishing boats, industrial and farm machinery, etc.