Saturday, July 01, 2006

On The First Blahw of Petropolitics

I normally enjoy reading Thomas L. Friedman’s articles and I envy the quality of his pen but frankly, his recent “The First Law of Petropolitics”, Foreign Policy, May/June 2006 reads like what we in Venezuela refer to as “discovering the tepid water”, discovering common knowledge, although, in fact, if he really feels that he must advice his own government “that the price of crude should now be a daily preoccupation of the U.S. secretary of state, not just the treasury secretary” then I can only conclude that the USA has a much more serious problem than oil. Of course to place huge oil income directly into the pockets of the politicians in countries with weak institutions, will distort their minds and make them act like bullies, what’s new?

Friedman also thinks he makes an important point concluding in reference to consumer countries such as the USA that “we can affect the global price of oil by altering the amounts and types of energy we consume” which is of course also very correct. But, where he goes absolutely wrong, and in his bio we see no reference to studies in economy, is when he says “we cannot affect the supply of oil in any country”. Of course you can! That day consumer countries would be willing to guarantee a decent price for oil over a long period, well that day producers would immediately produce more but, while what the consuming nations really seem to be looking for is oil at the $5 per barrel predicted by the prestigious The Economist as late as in March 1999, then you can obviously only expect to be creating the conditions for oil at over $100. Want to help? Then ask your treasury secretary to offer good long term prices for oil, subject that most of the revenues are distributed directly to the citizens of the producing country.

By the way, and back to the demand, what is currently on the board for fighting USA’s oil addiction seem just like nicotine patches and chewing gums for a non meant new-year promise, and will only serve to guarantee that the modern day successors of Mark Twain will also be able to argue that “it is easy to quit, as they have done it a thousand times”. Instead, $7 per gallon, that should indeed do it!

Levying a new federal consumption tax on gas that would increase its price to about the level at which it has been in Europe, would reduce demand for imported oil, provide the government with about $300 billions in taxes to balance the accounts and benefit the environment. Yes, it would destroy many jobs, but it also would create new ones. Better to bite the bullet now before the current economic imbalances erode confidence in the dollar, and anyhow take the price to $7 but then, with no gain to pay for the pain. That, of course, would require leadership, which is even scarcer than oil.