Oil And Capitalist Ideology

There is a troika of issues, without which there would be no rightwing blogosphere. Those issues are “victory” in Iraq, the islamic boogieman, and global warming, pretty much in that order. On the question of global warming, rightwing sites appear to be more obsessed with the issue than progressive sites, relentlessly pounding out the rightwing position — a position that is profoundly on its own terms. They don’t deny there is warming any more, though they do assert, in this order, that it is not a manmade phenomenon, and even if it is, hey, maybe it’s a good thing. In short, the belligerent, fanatical position that has conservative commentators across the spectrum fairly frothing at the mouth is something like, “WE JUST DON’T KNOW FOR SURE, YOU LIB FINK COMMIE TRAITOR.”

Fortunately for those of us on the left, moving away from an oil economy is one of those rare ideas that is good on any number of levels. If you don’t want to advocate kicking our petro jones on the basis of global warming, how about “national security.” Oil would certainly appear to be a strategic resource, making “energy independence” a good idea even in the complete absense of any observable warming. So rightwingers are waking and realizing that global warming may be entirely superfluous as a reason to move away from the oil economy, right. Global warming aside, it’s a good idea, anyway, right?

Oh, hell no. Get a load of this piece over at American Thinker entitled ‘Energy Independence’ Is A Pipedream. Here is the meat of it.

The Senate has already utilized the independence mantra to rationalize a market-distorting and pork-laden energy bill.

Unfortunately, it appears that nearly all of Capitol Hill is now congregated around the altar of “energy independence,” lured by the promise of economic half-truths and optimistic pipedreams.


While pushing for an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, Senator Dianne Feinstein explicitly justified her support for the measure in terms of energy independence, disingenuously arguing that higher fuel efficiency “would save nearly the amount of oil we currently import from the Persian Gulf.” William Laffer III of the Heritage Foundation dispensed with this argument as early as 1991, when he explained that “since American oil producers face substantially higher costs per barrel that producers in other parts of the world, the Americans would be forced to stop selling oil” if more stringent CAFE standards were enacted.

Say what? Increased fuel efficiency will stop Americans from selling oil? He never explains why, so I will — since you have to understand why to understand rightwing resistance to ANY reduction in oil consumption for ANY reason. It’s real simple. Increased efficiency will reduce demand. When demand drops, prices drop as suppliers try to unload their inventory. When the price drops, US production is “priced out of the market” — or so he says. Here is what that means, boiled down to its essence. We must do nothing to reduce demand for oil, so our domestic suppliers can continue to sell it.

This line of thinking is flawed for a number of reasons, starting with the first threshold question. In a “flat” world of transnational oil companies, what exactly does it mean to divide the world into “domestic” and “foreign” oil producers. Who is pumping oil in the US, if not Exxon-Mobil and Chevron? Aren’t they also pumping oil in the Middle East, Nigeria, and other oil rich areas of the third world?

Assuming that the division between “domestic” and “foreign” oil is valid — and there may be some lower profile domestic oil producers, who don’t have any overseas operations — is it valid to say that we will be less “dependent” on foreign oil, even if we continue to buy it? Answer this simple question. Suppose “domestic” producers cease pumping American oil. Is that oil going somewhere, or will it be right where it is at such time as global supplies peak and begin to decline? Will not such a natural petroleum reserve serve as an escape from foreign disruptions of supply, such as the oil embargoes of the ’70′s? Here is the real question, wherever we get our oil, doesn’t efficient use of oil insulate us from the kind of international extortion we saw in the 1970′s? It seems to me that reducing demand, thereby creating a global supply glut, is the way to tame those foreign producers, even as we continue to do business with them.

You see, “independence” doesn’t mean “no more trade.” It means trade on our terms, instead of theirs. When we aren’t using oil as fast they are producing it, we are in the drivers seat. Which brings us back around to the question of who “they” are? “They” are the oil companies — who control production and distribution everywhere. Reduced demand means reduced prices — according to this guy — which therefore means reduced profits.

Write this down. Capitalism is based on ever increasing, repetitive production, requiring ever increasing repetitive consumption. Forget about George Will paean’s to the alleged virtue of “thrift.” “Thrift” has no place in the contemporary global capitalist economy. You must buy, buy, buy — which means you must work, work, work to produce the stuff you buy, and also to pay for it. More to the point, you must work, work, work under circumustances where you can’t ever quit. “Dependence” is your necessary condition for the capitalist world economy to continue to function. The US cannot be permitted to achieve “energy independence” for the same reason you cannot be permitted to achieve “financial independence.” The minute you do, you will get off that debt/work treadmill, and global capital will lose its power over you.

That is why for conservatives, “global warming” is a boogieman on par with the terrorist boogieman. It furnishes a compelling reason to do something ordinary sane human beings would naturally do. It encourages efficient use of resources in a global capitalist economy that demands profligate waste.

That’s why I say, get out there and push, push, push “energy independence,” and while you’re at it, the supposed capitalist virtue of “thrift.” Take this author, Clinton J. Woods — a “legislative analyst” in the “transportation industry” — and push him up against the ropes of his own contradictions. Yes, Clint, we need to reduce demand and promote our “independence” — not so much from “furriners” as from your buds in the oil industry.

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