Tuesday, December 25, 2007

La Vanguardia moved our friend Andy Robinson from New York and made him their roving antiglobalization altermundista antisystem correspondent. Andy and his ilk enjoy playing a game of wishful thinking; they like to "prove" that the evil American empire is about to crash, and that Europe or Russia or China or somebody, anybody, is going to muscle up and challenge American hegemony.

Not likely, since the United States has by far the world's largest economy, strongest military, and greatest amount of social and human capital. Andy and his ilk consistently fall for what's called the "physical fallacy," the idea that only tangible things have value. Actually, the most valuable possessions a country can have are a relatively stable, honest, and effective government, and an educated and skilled population. The only countries that have these intangible pearls and diamonds are the US, Europe, and parts of East Asia; the rest of the world is far behind and is going to stay that way for at least the next half-century.

Andy gets the front-page screamer headline and pages 3 and 4 of La Vangua's international section for this: "Geopolitcal consequences of energetic power: The superpowers of expensive oil: Energy resource nationalism sets off new Cold War."

Now, now, "a new Cold War" seems a bit excessive. Remember, the old one lasted forty years and scared the living shit out of everybody, including me.

The fun part, though, is that Andy is excited and enthusiastic about the prospect! Get this: He kicks off his article with a reference to the Communist Manifesto.

A specter is haunting the planet in these times of scarce energy resources and soaring oil prices. It is giving chills to the traditional capitals of power, and it unites leaders who are not at all assimilated to the liberal consensus of globalization, privatization, and free markets, from Hugo Chavez to Evo Morales, from Vladimir Putin to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It is resource nationalism, the new geopolitical power of the oil and gas producers that extends from the Middle East to Latin America, from the former Soviet Union to Africa.

Note what these places all have in common: They have neither stable and honest governments, nor skilled and educated populations. Their economies are the size of Alabama's. The idea of any of these countries becoming a superpower just because it produces lots of oil shows profound ignorance of the way economics works.

Russia has, for example, a declining population whose life expectancy is decreasing, no unctioning financial system, a mafia-run government, a corrupt bureaucracy, large dissatisfied minority groups, a populace living in poverty, the world's worst alcohol problem, rusted-out antiquated industries, a minuscule service sector, a shot-to-hell infrastructure, enormous environmental destruction, and a 20th-century history of extreme violence, dictatorship, and terror. Russia can't even feed itself; apparently the people's main source of animal protein is frozen chicken legs imported from, like, Arkansas.

Oh, yeah, they've also got nuclear missiles, most of which would blow up on the launching pad, and a lot of oil. That hardly makes Russia a major power. It makes Russia a one-commodity exporter, and therefore dreadfully weak. The only thing Russia could do to hurt the United States, short of war, is an oil embargo, which would be cutting off their nose to spite their face, since their economy is so dependent on oil exports. Meanwhile, we'd confiscate all their overseas investments and slap a food embargo on them faster than you can say Colonel Sanders, while increasing oil imports from friendly states like Canada and Mexico. Americans would be forced to use less gas. Russians would be forced to live on three potatoes a day. Who do you think would blink first?

Back to Andy: "It is a strategic decision by countries with energy resources to use them in their own development instead of optimizing corporate incomes," said Roger Tissot, a market analyst with PFC Energy in Toronto.

I looked up Roger Tissot, who is actually a real expert. I found this quote: "Tissot foresaw no threat to oil supply from Venezuela and in fact reinforced that the Venezuelan government depends on its oil revenue to advance its political project...He mentioned Venezuelan owned Citgo Petroleum's important role in the distribution on gasoline and oil derivatives in the U.S."

Proving my point. If they cut off oil to the US, their economy goes tits-up, and we confiscate Citgo while cutting off their food supply--Venezuela can't feed itself, either, and not even Hugo Chavez is dumb enough to ignore this fact.

Andy also quotes a guy named Michael Klare. All you need to know about Mr. Klare is that he writes for the Nation and Mother Jones, and he has a book out called Blood and Oil.

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