Speculators Are Doing Our Children A Service
It's very hard to guess what the price of oil would be in the absence of speculation, but it's also impossible to imagine what a world without speculation would look like. I certainly agree that we have no good explanation of these prices. Certainly as an explanation by itself, "speculation" makes little sense. Speculators drive up prices only when they believe that future prices will be even higher. Why they'd believe that, I'm not sure.
I do think we should pause to note that if that's what's happening, then the speculators are doing our children a service by conserving oil for a time when it will be very scarce. In other words (if in fact that's what's happening), there are two reasons to applaud higher oil prices -- conservation and environmental issues. But speculators are unlikely to care about the latter. So no matter how high speculators push the price, they're unlikely to push it far enough.
~Steven Landsburg in yesterday's LA Times