As part of the United States’ reaction to Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Vice President Joe Biden pledged brutal actions such as a crackdown on Russian banks and a restriction on exports to the nation. However, one of the most significant punishments he might inflict on Russia’s oil sector was conspicuously lacking from his self-declared campaign to preserve democracy and render Vladimir Putin a “pariah.” As an alternative, Vice President Biden stated that sanctions might not be on the table. During the response, he added, “my administration is utilizing every instrument at our disposal to safeguard American families and businesses from increasing gasoline costs.” To keep prices down, we’re taking proactive measures.”
It was a brief, but memorable, a flash of inspiration. The protection of American consumers from having to spend a few additional dollars to fill up their gas tanks seemed to outrank the defense of global democracy in the face of a full-scale attack on Ukraine by a resurgent Russia. However, when seen in context, Biden’s opinion was not unexpected. For the more significant part of half a century, the political influence of domestic energy prices has affected U.S. foreign and national security policy. Following decades of conventional political wisdom, the administration’s adamant efforts to keep energy prices low throughout Biden’s 13 months in office are consistent with the belief that few—if any—issues are significant enough for consumers to be willing to give up cheap gas prices to address them.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine may be altering that judgment is a source of worry. Despite rising demands for an embargo on Russian oil from officials in Washington and surveys showing that most customers prepared to pay more to safeguard Ukraine, the Biden Administration has been obliged to examine such a measure—along with the political difficulties that it would entail. This is something that every politician is thinking about right now: Is this the correct time to call for tremendous sacrifice?” Gernot Wagner, a professor of economics at New York University who specializes in the economics of climate change, states that
The long-term consequences of this event might be far-reaching: they could influence not just the future of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine but also the way policymakers across the world consider the effect of rising energy costs on everything from taxation to global climate change.
It is helpful to go back to the 1970s when energy shortages were so widespread that they generated a Billboard hit song, “Energy Crisis ’74,” better to comprehend the political anxiety of rising oil prices. Over the decade, politicians struggled to deal with interruptions in oil flow from the Middle East. However, President Jimmy Carter’s answer stands out as a solid warning to politicians still around today.
Carter spoke on television in 1977, as the price of gasoline continued to rise and gas stations restricted the amount of petrol that each customer could purchase. He suggested that Americans “learn to squander less energy.” He put on a cardigan and recommended that we set the temperature down a few degrees. TIME magazine’s cover proclaimed that “Uncle Jimmy Wants You,” but also expressed skepticism about whether or not Americans would truly heed his invitation. At the time, there was a mixed reaction, with many people stating that they were prepared to make sacrifices. Nonetheless, today, the speech is seen as a watershed moment in what has been dubbed the Carter-era malaise, which ended in Carter’s overwhelming election loss. Reagan, his successor, was convinced that, rather than requesting sacrifices from people and seeking to “impose additional restrictions on them,” he would address the issue of high oil costs via the “magic of the marketplace.”