Published May 6, 2022
For most Americans, the pain of the war in Ukraine remains dim and distant, with one highly visible exception: gas prices. Within two weeks of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, as Western sanctions curtailed access to immense Russian oil and gas exports, the price of oil surged from $91 a barrel to $123, and the average price Americans paid at the pump for gas spiked from $3.60 to $4.35. Although both prices have somewhat moderated, such a sudden hit to Americans’ pocketbooks has provoked a predictable political outcry. Some have asked why consumers should bear the burden while Big Oil unfairly profits from a global crisis, while House Democrats have proposed a tax on windfall energy profits. Others have insisted that free markets can solve this temporary problem.
Both have a point. Market incentives can and should respond to price signals so that high prices now will spur more oil production later. But those crying “foul” are not imagining things either. Markets do not always produce fair outcomes all on their own but must be part of a larger moral order that recognizes virtues such as the good of our neighbor.
Brad Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the founder and president of the Davenant Institute. He also works as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute–Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, S.C., with his wife, Rachel, and four children.
Brad Littlejohn, Ph.D., is a Fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping public leaders understand the intellectual and historical foundations of our current breakdown of public trust, social cohesion, and sound governance. His research investigates shifting understandings of the nature of freedom and authority, and how a more full-orbed conception of freedom, rooted in the Christian tradition, can inform policy that respects both the dignity of the individual and the urgency of the common good. He also serves as President of the Davenant Institute.