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The Cost of Dependence on Foreign Fossil Fuel

Here's Max Boot:
Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway. Two others have recently made a transition to democracy — Mexico and Nigeria. Iraq is trying to follow in their footsteps. That's it. Every other major oil exporter is a dictatorship — and the run-up in oil prices has been a tremendous boon to them.

My associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ian Cornwall, calculates that if oil averages $71 a barrel this year, 10 autocracies stand to make about $500 billion more than in 2003, when oil was at $27. This windfall helps to squelch liberal forces and entrench noxious dictators in such oil producers as Russia (which stands to make $115 billion more this year than in 2003) and Venezuela ($36 billion). Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez can buy off their publics with generous subsidies and ignore Western pressure while sabotaging democratic developments from Central America to Central Asia.

The "dictatorship dividend" also subsidizes Sudan's ethnic cleansing (it stands to earn $4.7 billion more this year than in 2003), Iran's development of nuclear weapons ($45 billion) and Saudi Arabia's proselytization for Wahhabi fundamentalism ($149 billion). Even in such close American allies as Kuwait ($35 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($36 billion), odds are that some of the extra lucre will find its way into the pockets of terrorists.
As I've repeated more times than I can count, we are running a similar risk of developing the same sort of relationship with nations that have large reserves of natural gas. Why do we need to repeat that mistake?

Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

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Paul Primavera said…
It is very important to note that most of the oil exporting countries are autocracies. But liberal democracy is no better. Neither autocracy nor democracy respect the individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, nor the principle of the non-initiation of force. (Yes, just hold your breath for a little bit and I'll show how this relates to nuclear power in the US).

Autocracy assumes that one man or a few men have the right to make subservient to his or their wishes the rest of the nation.

Democracy assumes that if a simple majority in a nation vote a certain way, then that majority has the right to impose its will above the rights of the minority.

Classic examples include confiscation of private property for 'the public good'. An excellent example is the impending NYS gubernatorial election where the shutdown of the Indian Point Energy Center is a focal point in Eliot Spitzer's campaign. Certainly it is possible (though I doubt it) that a majority may believe that Indian Point should be shutdown and thus vote in Mr. Spitzer. But even if a majority were to vote so, it is wrong to dictate to Entergy how it should generate electricity on land it has purchased when it has initiated force against (i.e., harmed) NO ONE by its actions. It is immoral and unjust.

Yet in a democracy the majority may vote for the immoral and unjust, and unfairly impose its will above the rights of a company or a group of people or an individual to fairly and squarely conduct business. That is what is wrong with liberal democracy: two wolves and one sheep voting on what's for dinner. The best example is Socrates being made to drink hemlock because a majority of Athenians democratically voted that way.

The United States is (or at least was at one time) a Constitutional Republic where the rights and sovereignty of the individual take precedence and the power of government was limited to respect those rights: no governor could order any business shutdown merely on the basis of unreasoning fear and hysteria by a vocal group of agitators. Lately, however, many seem to feel that if a majority say 'shut it [i.e., Indian Point] down', then it should be shutdown even when no laws are being broken, no regulations violated, and no people being harmed. Their reasoning is often based on the flawed Precautionary Principle and the dissemination of the aforementioned unreasoning fear and hysteria by pseudo-environmentalist groups likely financed from fossil-fuel interests.

Only two principles matter:

(1) The individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

(2) The non-initiation of force.

All true morality is descended from these two principles. Neither the will of the people nor the will of the autocrat have any moral right to supersede these principles.

That means that even if 99.999% of all New Yorkers want Indian Point shutdown, their vote for such has NO moral force given that Indian Point has neither harmed nor killed any member of the public. Rather, if New Yorkers want Indian Point shutdown, then their best tactic to put it out of business is by refusing to buy its electricity. Let the Free Market decide.

But this argument isn't about morality or democracy or even what the majority of New Yorkers want; it's about what the anti-nukes and their fossil-fuel financiers want: more dependency on fossil fuels in lands of autocrats and theocrats.

And that, folks, is the point: to find the immorality, trace the money back to its source.

Matthew66 said…
Paul, I admire your devotion to libertarianism. I would, however, point out that no political system has a monopoly on either virtue or vice. The typical argument against democracy is that of Aristotle, that democracy killed Socrates. I would question whether ancient Greek "democracy" could be compared to a modern democracy, but in any event I could cite examples of grave injustices inflicted under most forms of government, for example: the racist policies of the US prior to the civil rights movement (your beloved constitutional republic), the racist immigration and other policies of Australia prior to 1972 (constitutional monarchy), etc. I could also point to dictatorships or virtual dictatorships where individual freedom is exercised, although mostly within limits.

From my own personal experience of having lived in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, I have found I had a greater actual right to privacy in Australia and NZ (both constitutional monarchies with democratic institutions) than the USA (a constitutional republic with democratic institutions) and much less intrusion of the government into my private life in those two countries. E.g. in Australia, financial institutions may not exchange very much information about my credit history, all they may swap is credit inquiries and bad events such as defaulting on payment or bankruptcy. In the US, the credit bureaus track how much I am spending each month on my credit cards, versus my credit limit, as well as inquiries and bad events. E.g. In NY city, I am required to provide a notarized affadavit each year advising the city who lives in my apartment, no Australian or NZ government has ever required this of me.

I am not saying one system is better or worse than the other, one has to weigh the pros and cons of each, but no political system has a monopoly on virtue or vice.
Paul Primavera said…

What you wrote is I think a key to the whole issue and well said. I believe Robert Heinlein expressed this best:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something.

"Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?

"Any government will work if authority and responsibility are equal and coordinate. This does not insure 'good' government; it simply insures that it will work. But such governments are rare--most people want to run things but want no part of the blame: This used to be called the 'backseat-driver syndrome.'"

I am not a perfect Libertarian. We live in a real world where we need real world answers to real world problems. For example, sometimes a certain amount of wealth redistribution by government becomes necessary in order to provide certain services (e.g., emergency management, national defense, education, etc.) essential to overall public health and safety. True-blue Libertarians would oppose such sentiments tooth-and-nail. But compromise is necessary in the real world.

However, I balk when people insist that the means of industry production and the distribution of wealth there-from be decided upon by popular vote. This is no different than the plebeians voting for what kind of bread and circuses they want, and how much they get. It's nothing more than varnished-over socialism. To quote Woodrow Wilson:

"For it is very clear that in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite the one and the same. They both rest at bottom on the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members."

No one has the right to choose my destiny - but that means that I alone am responsible for the results of my decisions.

In the same manner, no one has the right to choose how a company generates electricity (e.g., coal, nuclear, gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, oil, etc.). But in equal measure no company has the right to dump toxic refuse in the atmosphere that annually kills 30000 in the US alone (e.g., coal plant pollution) no matter how many people (even a hypothetical 99.999% of the population) prefer coal over nukes. Each company is responsible to internalize the costs of its own production, and protect the environment and people from any hazardous impact that might result from its production. Free Enterprise entails not just the right to earn a profit, but the responsibility to do so without the initiation of force against any other. Nuclear does this to a greater degree than oil, coal or gas, given the internalization of the costs of its wastes. Even including the minor tritium leakage from Exelon and Entergy plants, commercial nuclear power in the U.S. has initiated NO force against any individual or groups of individuals (i.e., has neither injured nor killed a single member of the public) unlike coal fired power plants which kill 30000 annually.

And anti-nukes, because of fear, because of the flawed Precautionary Principle, would effectively substitute polluting coal for nuclear, or foster on the public schemes such as wind or solar power that are vastly more expensive and economically debilitating.

As I said, all true morality is descended from these two principles (regardless of government type):

(1) The individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

(2) The non-initiation of force.
Paul Primavera said…

One other thing occurred to me. Everytime we in 'liberal democracies' vote against nuclear power (e.g., Germany's planned nuclear phase-out, Italy's nuclear phase out, the Sacramento vote to shutdown Rancho Seco in California, etc.), we effectively vote for more fossil fuel fuel, and some of that comes from violent autocracies. While in the US oil from Mid-East theocacies isn't much used to generate electricity, oil is used as diesel to fuel trains that bring hundreds of box-cars of coal to coal fired power plants weekly. Nuclear can displace that. Nuclear can also be used to make liquid fuels to substitute for oil. Nuclear can be used to provide electricity to power trains, or provide steam to turbines that turn ship propellers (the US Navy has been doing that since the 1950s).

I find little if any moral difference between 'liberal democracy' and the theocratic autocracies that liberal democracies in the west supposedly oppose. Every vote against nuclear power is a vote for Islamic fascism. I have said that before and while some of my interpretations or analyses are hardly perfect, and I stand by it.

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