Home > Economics - General > The Great Oil Fallacy

The Great Oil Fallacy

November 27th, 2012

That’s the headline for a piece I published in The National Interest last week. Opening paras

Among the unchallenged verities of U.S. politics, the most universally accepted is that of the crucial strategic and economic significance of oil, and particularly Middle Eastern oil. On the right, the need for oil is seen as justifying an expanded and assertive military posture, as well as the removal of restrictions on domestic drilling. On the left, U.S. foreign-policy is seen through the prism of “War for Oil,” while the specter of Peak Oil threatens to bring the whole system down in ruins.
The prosaic reality is that oil is a commodity much like any other. As with every major commodity, oil markets have some special features that affect supply, demand and prices. But oil is no more special or critical than coal, gas or metals—let alone food.

This piece expands on my earlier argument that the US has no national interest at stake in the Middle East, just a set of mutually inconsistent sectional interests and policy agendas. I don’t talk about climate change explicitly, but we’ll never have a sensible debate about climate change until oil is demystified.

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  1. ts
    November 29th, 2012 at 08:53 | #1

    Megan :“The article I quote below (emphasis mine) from Bloomberg is incorrect?”
    Yes.
    The media is also an embarrassment.
    Almost all those millions of extra daily barrels of “US” oil come from Canada.

    If it’s not overly strenuous for you, do you mind providing a source?

    That’s generally what normal people do when refuting a statement someone else has made backed up by a source. Simply calling my source an embaressment doesn’t provide any evidence whatsoever for your claim.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting you are wrong – just that your flippant dismissal of my source is pretty juvenile. Bloomberg isn’t exactly a peer reviewed journal, but neither is it news.com.au. I’m always happy to be proven wrong and change my opinions accordingly when the evidence is presented.

  2. BilB
    November 29th, 2012 at 09:12 | #2

    GregV,

    I think you are wrong in saying that the “sunk cost loss” applies to solar panels on rooves. It applies to swimming pools because not every one wants them and they are a cost to maintain. Solar panels on the other hand are a positive as they reduce the operating costs of the property or residence. So I think that you are making that up and have no proof that a solar system on a house does not add to its value. I would accept that it does not appreciate the propery’s value proportional to the full capital cost, but that it adds no value I do not accept.

    All of the negatives that you attribute to solar PV, an incredibly pesimistic list, also apply to Automobiles, and people happily buy those devices new and second hand.

    Electricity prices lept up due to the monumental greed of the grid energy operators, not because of solar PV. You are trying to have your negative cake and eat it too. One minute you claim that a person selling a house with PV cannot reasonably expect to find a property to buy that has a similar system, while also having PV the exclusive domain of the rich out of reach of poor people, then just a post or two later you declare that there are so many PV systems that they are distorting the market price of electricity.

    There is a huge plausibility gap in your arguments, Greg.

  3. Dan
    November 29th, 2012 at 12:29 | #3

    @iain

    You might want to have a look at this for an explanation of the oil price bubble:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/wikileaks-cables-show-speculators-behind-oil-bubble-20110526

  4. Dan
    November 29th, 2012 at 12:34 | #4

    @Mel

    I really don’t know why you continue to flog this, but for the record, I can see no other realpolitik reason for the US to invade Iraq. That’s not a conspiracy, that’s deduction. I’d add that it was, without doubt, a miscalculation.

    Given how astonishingly incoherent other explanations are (WMDs? democracy?), I really don’t understand why you continue to gnaw at this entirely tired topic.

    I also note that you supported that war in the first place, while I opposed it strongly at the outset. Readers can make up their own minds about who has the better judgment.

  5. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 14:22 | #5

    @Dan

    Why? Read PrQ’s article. Even better read some intelligent analysis by respected historians.

    Here is the Brookings Iraq Index. The situation in Iraq, while still none too flash, has vastly improved in recent times in respect of civilian deaths and the economy. Indeed, monthly deaths are now way below the death rate attributable to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

    No-one apart from Dan, George Galloway, some nutters from the Pilger-left and Saddam’s old cronies think the old days were better.

  6. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 14:23 | #6
  7. Dan
    November 29th, 2012 at 14:28 | #7

    iirc, ProfQ said if it was oil-related, it was a miscalculation.

    I’ve already agreed with that at #4, just above.

    Unless you have a more convincing explanation for war than either the ludicrous official line, or my view, I propose that there’s no point continuing the conversation.

  8. Dan
    November 29th, 2012 at 14:32 | #8

    Incidentally, can you direct me specifically to information backing up your ‘way below’ claim? I would like for you to be right, I have absolutely no issue with the contention that Saddam’s regime was awful. All of the time series I’m glancing at here go from 2003, ie. from the outset of the war.

  9. Katz
    November 29th, 2012 at 16:50 | #9

    Mel:

    No-one apart from Dan, George Galloway, some nutters from the Pilger-left and Saddam’s old cronies think the old days were better.

    Of course, supporters of the Shiite theocrats that the US left in charge of Iraq would agree with Mel.

    Whether the US geopoliticians left to cope with the mess left by Bush Jr would agree with them is another question:

    WASHINGTON — Iran has resumed shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to senior American officials.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/world/middleeast/iran-supplying-syrian-military-via-iraq-airspace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

    Was an Iranian corridor to the heart of the Middle East a policy priority of the Bush regime?

  10. Fran Barlow
    November 29th, 2012 at 18:59 | #10

    I don’t regard oil as irrelevant to the Iraq escalation in 2003. I’m just not persuaded that it was a decisive factor in motivating the assault in 2003. I regard it as much more likely that ‘wag the dog’ factors were key, and the oil was merely something that would serve as a distraction from that reality that this was domestic politicking. How does Iraq get to be a vital interest of the US but for the oil? Oil eas an enabler of a policy that the Bush administration (correctly) thought politically useful. That much quoted “reality-based community” jibe attributed to Rove really was about that.

    It was a huge boondoggle (to borrow an Americanism) in which massive amounts of payola would go to groups of stakeholders in the defence industries, logistics, oil etc but which because it was for the war effort, would go under scrutinised. Of course, the Bush regime gets to play tough guy, and kick butt in the middle east and be on the same side as the Israelis. From a misanthropic and parochial point of view, what’s not to like about that?

    Bush helps out his backers and gets good PR. Murdoch starts to talk about $20 oil. Americans like the sound of that.

    So oil isn’t irrelevant, but it’s not the huge deal it’s made out to be. It’s always cheaper to just buy the stuff.

  11. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 19:05 | #11

    PrQ caught in mod, ta.

  12. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 20:35 | #12

    Dan: Dexter Filkins, author of the “Forever War” and various other put Hussein attributable deaths in the order of 2 million. Saddam was in power for 24 years hence the monthly death is:
    2,000,000/ (24*12) = 6,944 per month. This is significantly above the current figure, which is trending down.

    Katz, the US left a democratic Iraq that, much to my surprise, has outlived the CoW departure.
    The other point worth making is that the Hussein regime, like all dictatorships, would have eventually fallen even without the CoW invasion and this would have inevitably caused a murderous Sunni Arab/Kurd/Shi Arab/Other minority shit fight much like what we saw after the CoW invasion.

    Given democracy is holding and the death toll has plummeted to well below Saddam era levels and continues to trend down, the CoW invasion must be deemed a stunning success, at least from a consequentialist perspective.

    I won’t comment further on Dan’s infantile oil war conspir@cy theory unless he provides references to pertinent publications by war historians. As I’ve said previously, there is no point spending billions (or as it turned out trillions) to control something that you can easily purchase in the marketplace. Moreover, since the Neocons clearly set out from day one to turn Iraq into a democracy, any notion of control is risible.

  13. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 20:37 | #13

    Dan: Dexter Filkins, author of the “Forever War” and various others put Hussein attributable deaths in the order of 2 million. Saddam was in power for 24 years hence the monthly death is:

    2,000,000/ (24*12) = 6,944 per month. This is significantly above the current figure, which is trending down.

    Katz, the US left a democratic Iraq that, much to my surprise, has outlived the CoW departure.

  14. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 20:38 | #14

    The other point worth making is that the Hussein regime, like all dictatorships, would have eventually fallen even without the CoW invasion and this would have inevitably caused a murderous Sunni Arab/Kurd/Shi Arab/Other minority bun fight much like what we saw after the CoW invasion.

    Given democracy is holding and the death toll has plummeted to well below Saddam era levels and continues to trend down, the CoW invasion must be deemed a stunning success, at least from a consequentialist perspective.

    I won’t comment further on Dan’s infantile oil war conspir@cy theory unless he provides references to pertinent publications by war historians. As I’ve said previously, there is no point spending billions (or as it turned out trillions) to control something that you can easily purchase in the marketplace. Moreover, since the Neocons clearly set out from day one to turn Iraq into a democracy, any notion of control is risible.

  15. Katz
    November 29th, 2012 at 21:45 | #15

    Doubtless, the Shiite ascendancy in Iraq represents the aspirations of the majority of Iraqis still living in the country.

    A regime that employs the armed forces as death squads that perpetrated one of the more effective and ruthless acts of ethnic cleansing in history can hardly be termed democratic. This is the most notable accomplishment of the Maliki regime.

  16. Jordan
    November 29th, 2012 at 22:51 | #16

    @Mel
    Since you decided to be extremely sellective when counting death toll, let me be selective too.
    Lets count death tolls after the Iraq/Iran war since then were most deaths under Sadam and then you can count todays death toll.
    If you want to be a bit more objective then you should start averaging death toll since 2003 till today. That will give you a bit credibility. I think you will find terifing numbers. If you also add the toll of exodus of people then you will have full credibility.

  17. Jordan
    November 29th, 2012 at 22:52 | #17

    @Mel
    Maybe add the death toll caused by embargo, or discount.

  18. Mel
    November 29th, 2012 at 23:27 | #18

    Jordan, you would have more credibility if you could demonstrate a capacity for constructing a coherent sentence and a logical train of thought.

    Most of the bloodletting after the CoW invasion was a civil war in which the CoW were largely ineffectual bit players. The viciousness of the civil war was in large part an inevitable suffix to Saddam’s 24 years of brutal rule. That suffix would have resulted regardless of the cause of regime change.

  19. Jordan
    November 30th, 2012 at 04:11 | #19

    Mel, I would say that i have plenty of credibility, since you did not notice that english is not my first language, and i do not use ad homminem attacks. Sometimes i do not proofread my comment but it depends on time i have for it.
    Now you are giving excuses for why not include full death toll under CoW and i gave you my excuses for other side. What gives you the right to accept only one side excuses? What do you think about that? Are you a death toll police?
    I am from Croatia so i lived trough a war and i can tell you that both sides have excuses for their crimes, but nobody asks wictims of the war for their excuses.

  20. Katz
    November 30th, 2012 at 07:06 | #20

    Mel:

    Most of the bloodletting after the CoW invasion was a civil war in which the CoW were largely ineffectual bit players.

    Incorrect. The US bankrolled, armed and trained the Iraqi armed forces and national police, aka Shiite Death Squads.

  21. Dan
    November 30th, 2012 at 08:53 | #21

    I really don’t get why you’re so wound up about this.

    But okay, let’s assume democracy was the goal.

    How do you reconcile that with the US’ conduct in other countries in the Middle East, and particularly in Latin America?

    When exactly can we expect the US to invade Saudi Arabia?

  22. Dan
    November 30th, 2012 at 08:55 | #22

    The above was @Mel – so the below.

    You’re being exceeding selective with the way you’re using your mortality figures, to the point where I’d be surprised if even you were genuinely fooled.

  23. November 30th, 2012 at 10:13 | #23

    If anyone doubts that massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are technically or economically possible, I’ll mention that Germany now installs solar for under $2 a watt. Adusting for lower labour costs in many places, $2 a watt makes point of use solar electricity cheaper than grid electricity for most of the world’s people.

  24. Hermit
    November 30th, 2012 at 10:44 | #24

    @Ronald Brak
    I think you’ll find a few firms here will install 5 kw of PV for $10k. Mind you a lot of them seem to go out of business quickly. I paid $8/w for PV some years ago. I’ll acknowledge that the price drop has been remarkable, probably due to the Chinese handing out $30bn in subsidies to their manufacturers.

    Next we want cheap, safe longlife batteries. I note some old EV batteries will be used in houses
    http://inhabitat.com/general-motors-repurposes-expired-chevy-volt-batteries-to-power-homes/
    If that can achieve a 75% price drop then we’re talking major inroads. Like the bunyip I’ll believe it when I see it. Batteries won’t be practical for aluminium smelters and other big power users.

  25. Newtownian
    November 30th, 2012 at 11:12 | #25

    @Dan

    “@iain
    You might want to have a look at this for an explanation of the oil price bubble:
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/wikileaks-cables-show-speculators-behind-oil-bubble-20110526

    This is the same line as in the book ‘Grifftopia’ also by Matt Taibbi. While the latter is an excellent and informative polemic he makes the mistake of reducing things purely to manipulation of things by the vampire quid of Goldman Sachs, populist attacks on which have made him very popular.

    To be sure there is speculation but say this is everything is like saying commodity shortages in wartime are created solely by short term profiteering, while the breakdown in supply chains and reallocation of resources have nothing to do with long term chronic shortages, rationing and prices hikes.

    If anything speculators thrive because there is an underlying supply problem which may be structural or virtually absolute.

    Nevertheless the profiteering issue is a central one to raise at it confounds efforts to disentangle different supply drivers as everyone tends to blame their favorite straw man rather than recognise short term availability is the result of a complex of factors including social ones which are often more about fetish (4WDs is my favorite) than actual need for a good civilized life – while long terms ones (which is what the ‘peak oil’ is about) while related, likely differ even if there are qualitative commonalities.

  26. rog
    November 30th, 2012 at 11:32 | #26

    I signed up to this, they say it’s not to be witch hunt more an examination of the process. http://iraqwarinquiry.org.au/

  27. quokka
    November 30th, 2012 at 12:28 | #27

    I you ask me (and nobody did!), the purpose of the war on Iraq was to destroy the Iraqi state as an entity capable of acting in opposition to perceived US interests. As Chomsky said, leave the family and bad things happen. It is a repeated pattern of US foreign policy around the world post WW II.

  28. Jim Rose
    November 30th, 2012 at 15:32 | #28

    The USA may well have invaded for the reasons it gave at the time. These may not have been good reasons, but do not so easily dismiss them.

    Attacking supposedly nuclear armed countries is never wise. Why are Iran and Iraq not allowed to be nuclear armed but North Korea is? Diplomatic solutions are always preferred to stop the Hermit Kingdom from going nuclear.

    The fatal flaw in any conspiratorial explanation of the Iraq Invasion is Bush 43 would have to be the ring-leader. The Left cannot maintain that Bush 43 is a dope unable to find his backside with both hands and a map but at the same time he rallied both digits of his IQ to led a vast international conspiracy.

  29. Katz
    November 30th, 2012 at 15:38 | #29

    Don’t conflate JR.

    There are some on the left who perceive conspiracy. There are others on the left who detect comical incompetence driven by hubris.

    I know of no individual who holds both views simultaneously.

    Myself. I subscribe to the cretin thesis.

  30. David Irving (no relation)
    November 30th, 2012 at 16:35 | #30

    Katz, a third possibility is that Bush was an innocent (!) dupe, and the conspiracy was actually directed by Cheney or Rumsfeld or someone.

  31. frankis
    November 30th, 2012 at 17:38 | #31

    Great piece!

  32. sdfc
    November 30th, 2012 at 19:00 | #32

    Jim it was no secret that the weapons inspections had been largely successful in destroying Iraqi weapons programs. Invading Iraq doesn’t suggest Bush is anything other than a dope.

  33. Mel
    November 30th, 2012 at 21:07 | #33

    As far as I can tell, the democratically elected Maliki government in Iraq isn’t exceptional in respect of human rights violations when compared to other fledgling democracies in civil war situations. If Katz has information to suggest otherwise, I’m all ears.

    It may well be true that some American funding has made its way to Shia “death squads”, as Katz suggests, however it is painfully obvious that but for the CoW presence, Iran would have stepped in to a post-Saddam Iraq and the consequent carnage would have been many times greater than it was.

    I should also point that I agree that the Bush Presidency mishandled the war. They really did expect an easy victory and were not prepared the what actually occurred. Still, half a loaf of bread is better than no loaf at all. Hopefully things will continue to improve.

  34. sdfc
    November 30th, 2012 at 21:30 | #34

    Iraq is a shambles. A nice little playground for Al Qaeda.

  35. Katz
    November 30th, 2012 at 22:08 | #35

    It may well be true that some American funding has made its way to Shia “death squads”, as Katz suggests, however it is painfully obvious that but for the CoW presence, Iran would have stepped in to a post-Saddam Iraq and the consequent carnage would have been many times greater than it was.

    1. It is undeniable that the US bankrolled, armed and trained Shiite death squads.

    2. There is no way of knowing how Iran may have acted. To state otherwise is to indulge in magical thinking.

    3. Iran is as pleased as it could reasonably be with the way post-2003 Iraq has turned out in the aftermath of trillions of dollars spent by the US to get the kind of Iraq the US wanted. I repeat: Iran is now using Iraq as a corridor for its arms and equestrian into the Levant. Iran could not do that in 2003.

  36. Katz
    November 30th, 2012 at 22:17 | #36

    equestrian = equipment.

    Damned predictive text!

  37. Jim Rose
    December 1st, 2012 at 07:55 | #37

    The oil explanation for U.S. involvement in the middle-east has three flaws at least.
    1. oil usage is a much smaller part of GDP;
    2. The middle-east is a much smaller share of global oil production;
    3. We live in the era of post-heroic warfare. The small size of families make voters less willing to tolerate casualties;

    All of the factors should have made the middle-east less important to the USA as the decades have passed.

  38. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    December 1st, 2012 at 08:09 | #38

    Oh, I dunno, Katz, a massive cavalry invasion of Israel would seem to be right up Ahmadinejad’s alley.

  39. Katz
    December 1st, 2012 at 08:22 | #39

    “The 40,000 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

  40. Katz
    December 1st, 2012 at 08:35 | #40

    America’s original sin in the Middle East was the overthrow of Iran’s Mossadegh and the restoration of the Shah.

    There were elements of oil hegemony built into this plot, but mostly it was a Cold War, not Oil War, play.

    Similarly, the Carter Doctrine, that provided a rationale for US militarism in the region, was driven by Cold War priorities.

    Let us not forget, however, if the USSR had been by some means, capable of incorporating Iran and a number of other Middle Eastern oil exporting nations into its sphere, this oil would have ceased to be fungible in world markets.

    Therefore, the practical effect of US Cold War geopolitics in the Middle East was access to oil, even if its primary motivations were not. After the demise of the Soviet threat what remains of the Carter Doctrine is the idea of access to oil. This reflex is understandable.

  41. Ikonoclast
    December 1st, 2012 at 09:36 | #41

    At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, is Iran the new Nazi Germany? In some ways it is. On balance though , I would have to say not really, or not solely, mainly because the West too now acts in a Nazi fashion at least in its Middle East policy.

    The other huge geopolitical difference is that in WW2 we had Russia and China as allies. Russia and China did the heavy lifting of winning WW2 in human cost terms. Whereas, the West is only strong when it has a huge technogical and material advantage. That advantage is disappearing fast. Now Russia and China are firmly aligned with each other and with Iran. And China is about to become the technological and industrial giant of the world as well as the population giant.

    Google the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Were it not for the nuclear element (mutually assurred destruction) the West and its allies would be in a very parlous situation in terms of any protracted conventional war.

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation if it got serious could eventually destroy the West in conventional terms. As Jim Rose points out (correctly in this case) the West appears to be in the post-heroic stage in every sense. We are weak, soft, decadent and decaying. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation leadership would not blink at the loss of 50 million or even 100 million soldiers in conventional war. No way the West could match it.

    The West is also decaying economically, mainly due to neoliberal ideological madness and expeditionary military madness. The Chinese are chuckling at how stupid and self-destructive the West is. They will play the long game. They have no need to push anything to a conclusion yet. Every year that passes makes China stronger and the West weaker. China are quite happy to play a 100 year game or 500 year game; whatever it takes. The Chinese have not forgotten the “100 years of humiliation” and the colonial, imperialist rape of China by Britain, USA, Japan et. al.

    However, climate change is the wild card. There is no telling what effect climate change will have on all this.

  42. Geoff Andrews
    December 1st, 2012 at 10:59 | #42

    Jim Rose
    Huh? Your three reasons for why the US apparently did not invade Iraq are very convincing.
    I can just see Dick, Donald and George ticking all three boxes – oil usage is on the wane? Yep. Middle east oil? Almost gone.
    Post-heroic?
    “The last thing the electorate wants to see, George, is you in battle dress on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier making a fool of yourself”
    “Aw gee, Dick, that would have been fun too. But the Godfather says I should finish him off like HE should have done when he had the chance- he was trying to muscle in on our territory”
    Concern over casualties in a nuclear family? Too silly to even parody.

  43. Mel
    December 1st, 2012 at 12:32 | #43

    Katz, our erstwhile keyboard philosopher in one sentence squawks about Iran’s Ah Me Dinner Jacket meddling in distant Syria then a minute later dismisses the assumption that Ah Me Dinner Jacket would meddle in in Iraq, a much more strategically important country that hw has long meddled in, as “magic thinking”.

    Have you had a stroke or something, Katz? You were sharper than this back in 2006, when we first made acquaintance.

  44. Katz
    December 1st, 2012 at 14:23 | #44

    Flattery will get you nowhere Mel.

    Did I say that Iran wouldn’t involve itself in Iraq? For your information, and you seem to be in deep need of some … any … information, during the time of Saddam, all the major Iraqi Shiite parties, i.e., the present governing and some of the major opposition parties, were HEADQUARTERED in Iran and bankrolled by Iran. Your assertion that Iran might have meddled in Iraq appears to arise from ignorance of this fact.

    Thus, Mel, my argument is and has always been that Iran has always involved itself deeply in Iraqi affairs. It took the Americans’ incompetence to enable Iran’s ambitions for a Shiite theocracy in Iraq to come to fruition.
    Indeed, it is hard to imagine how Iran could have meddled more short of outright invasion. But why should they invade? Iran influences Iraq sufficiently already without open recourse to arms. Iran leaves invasion and military occupation to the cretinous Americans, choosing to bide their time and win the peace rather than lose the war.

  45. Ikonoclast
    December 1st, 2012 at 16:59 | #45

    @Katz

    Pretty much right. US foreign and domestic policy is cretinous. They are doing themselves more damage than any enemy could. It’s hard to see how the US can climb out of the hole they have dug themselves into. What baffles me is how the US ever got to the top anyway given their mindset. I guess it all comes down to having everything handed to you on a platter;

    1. Old world technology
    2. Old world labour and ever more migrants
    3. Richest continent on earth, untouched and untapped.
    4. Plundering the world of good brains.

    However, all that is over now. The technology lead is gone. Migrants only increase their underclass given the current system. The continent is (semi-) plundered. And the foreign brains will soon stop coming. The current US education system is failing on all fronts. The oligarchic neoliberal lunacy and religious fundamentalism rule their society. Impossible to see any way forward for them.

  46. MG42
    December 1st, 2012 at 19:02 | #46

    Ikonoclast :
    @Katz
    What baffles me is how the US ever got to the top anyway given their mindset. I guess it all comes down to having everything handed to you on a platter;
    1. Old world technology
    2. Old world labour and ever more migrants
    3. Richest continent on earth, untouched and untapped.
    4. Plundering the world of good brains.

    This was a conclusion that I came to a little while ago. Once it is realised that the US had spectacular advantages in all kinds of natural resources, labour supply and freedom from 20th century industrialised warfare, then you tend to become a little bit more sceptical on matters of philosophy, economics and “weltanschauung”.

    For examples, I would propose that these advantages led to the doctrine of “rugged individualism”. The climate was so good and the pickings were so easy, hence everyone can do it all themselves, the reasoning went, and if you failed, then you must be lazy. The Chicago School of economics is another consequence. The supply of factors of production was such that there was no need to think about the consequences in the long-run and the best use of resources given the limitations. Hence, the focus on the golden idol “ECONOMIC GROWTH” and disparaging of government simply because, under their circumstances, it was less necessary than in other places. The truth is that any market-based economic system would have worked, from “benevolent” dictatorship to social democracy.

    Truly a fascinating thought experiment.

  47. Ikonoclast
    December 2nd, 2012 at 05:30 | #47

    My above post sounds very anti-American. In a sense it is and in a sense it is not. If one is criticising American policy today, one is criticising the American elites not the mass of the ordinary American people. This is because it is the oligarchic elites who run the country. America’s pseudo-democratic system does not allow the masses to have any real say in running the US.

    To the extent that the US masses are uneducated, religiously fundamentalist and suffering from all the classic false consciousness of being in the thrall of oligarchic capitalism then the masses are indeed unenlightened and culpable. Their condition is understandable to some extent.

    US claims of Manifest Destiny and US exceptionalism do not hold up to scrutiny. There is nothing special about the US people nor is there anything special about their system. The rapid historical rise of the US is explicable in the following material terms;

    1. The country was formally founded when it was declared independent from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. The intellectual and mass ferment of revolution was growing in the West (French Revolution 1789 – 1799) and US intellectuals and founding “fathers” benefited from this ferment of ideas. The US founding “fathers”, mostly oligarchs themselves, perverted the revolution and ensured the US Constitution enshrined the rights of oligarchic land owners and nascent capitalists.

    2. The US was founded at virtually the perfect time to benefit from the Industrial Revolution in England and Europe circa 1750 to 1780. Being a new nation there was no feudal/post-feudal ancien regime nor related farming and cultural practices to overthrow. It was a clean slate.

    3. The US was lucky to possess / take possession of the richest, unspoilt continent swathe untouched on earth. Climate and natural resources were perfectly suited to vast, rapid and successful expansion.

    4. The US benefited from massive immigration. Immigrants bring labour, brains and energy essentially gratis. The large inputs to raise them to adulthood were in most cases paid by the Old World. The immigrants arrived adult and ready to work.

    5. The US benefited (or at least the oligarchs, land owners and free persons’ wealth did) from slave labour.

    6. The US benefited from the theft and consequent destructive exploitation of the lands of the indigenous peoples. (They are not the only nation that did this. Canada and Australis come to mind.)

    7. In general, the US benefited from European innovations re capitalism and later contributed their own. Since the 1970s, the US innovations in the capitalist paradigm have been negative and have led to the progressive relative deterioration of the low and middle classes and of the relative position of the US in the world economy.

    In summary, the US received a massive intellectual, human and material inheritance. This is what is “special” and what made America. Unfortunately, the accruing arrogance and hubris, resulting in specious claims about Manifest Destiny and Exceptionalism, has led the US astray. They are now in complete denial about their real problems and the need to change their oppressive system at home and abroad.

  48. rog
    December 2nd, 2012 at 06:55 | #48

    @Ikonoclast On point 6 you could say ROW, disputes over territory stretch back thru time.

    So in this regard I don’t think the US is exceptional and in general by selecting only negative events I do think you are not being fair in your analysis.

  49. Ikonoclast
    December 2nd, 2012 at 09:49 | #49

    @rog

    I had to look an acronyms dictionary for ROW. It has 20 common or not so common acronyms. Rest of World makes sense.

    On all of the points taken together the US is exceptional but this is not exceptionalism in the sense the US commentators usually mean. As a people they did no more than any other modern national people. They just drew the perfect hand to use a poker analogy.

  50. Jim Rose
    December 2nd, 2012 at 11:20 | #50

    @sdfc As I recall, after the end of the 2003 war it was found that Saddam destroyed most of his nuclear capacity so he was not caught with it by inspectors. He then played a fine game of bluff so they he looked like he had them so he looked strong and dangerous. He did seek to protect his much more concealable biological weapons capability.

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