February 05, 2005

Corner and Kill Friedman

Every once in awhile Thomas Friedman goes absolutely bonkers. His idea of a Geo-Green movement is downright pernicious:

Yes, there is an alternative to the Euro-wimps and the neocons, and it is the "geo-greens." I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil - by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power - we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

In reality, productive reform requires more capital flowing into a society, not less. Cornering a regime and killing off an economy leads people straight into the arms of the extremists, in this case the Islamists. Under crushing, punitive sanctions in the '90s, Saddam started getting awfully religious for a secular tyrant. He changed the national flag to include a religious saying in arabic script. He famously gave enough blood to write out an entire Koran, and he also went on a mosque building spree with some really unusual architecture cropping up. If an authoritarian regime doesn't have money to stay in power anymore, fanaticism is cheap, if dangerous.

This Geo-Green strategy is one that will put these societies in a corner and when they lash out at us (perhaps in another 9/11?) we'll have to kill them off. Instead of doing that, we need to lead them out of their current dead end and give the elite an exit strategy that makes lashing out to retain power highly unattractive. I don't see how $18 a barrel oil is going to get us there.

One fortunate thing about the scheme is that we're not going to get $18 a barrel oil again until after the end of the age of oil. We need a huge amount of energy to bring India and the PRC to the 1st world and we just can't drill enough to do it. All the conservation in the world isn't going to satisfy 2.4 billion people who want to go from a yearly per capita consumption of 1 barrel a year to a first world level of 25. In a sense, it's a moot strategy because any significant downward pressure on oil is simply going to get swept up in further buying in south and east Asia. That dynamic isn't going to change until we get a disruptive advance in energy.

Posted by TMLutas at February 5, 2005 12:52 AM