The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is in disarray. The price of Brent crude fell to less than $38 a barrel on Friday, the lowest since 2008. If the cartel had been working, it would be cutting output to force prices back up. Its members chose to keep pumping.
Why? Because just as demand from emerging markets is slowing, technology has changed the economics of oil. That's bad news for OPEC, but good news for everybody else – especially if the U.S. government and others have the wit to kick OPEC while it's down.
The U.S. shale-oil revolution has greatly increased non-OPEC supply. At the same time, efforts to curb oil consumption as part of the fight against climate change are further limiting the cartel's power to set prices.
Cheap oil will directly boost growth in most of the world, but with side effects that need to be managed. The fall in oil prices will encourage oil consumption, both in the short term (people will use their cars more) and long term (they'll buy cars that are less fuel-efficient). This works against reducing carbon emissions, and over time could help to restore OPEC's market power. Later, if prices bounce back, the economic hit would be disruptive.
The answer is for governments to smooth prices by adjusting the tax on fuel. When prices are low, like now, a higher gas tax would barely be noticed.
Keeping the price of gas to consumers both relatively stable and sufficiently high would give carmakers an incentive to boost investment in electric vehicles, making them cheaper and more reliable.
An OPEC crisis would be a terrible thing to waste.