Μαΐου 30, 2008
May 29th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Painful though it is, this oil shock will eventually spur huge change. Beware the hunt for scapegoats
...Hope at the bottom of the barrel
So the oil shock will take time to abate. Some greens may welcome that, seeing three-figure oil as a way of limiting greenhouse emissions. Conservation will indeed increase. But everything high prices achieve could be done better by sensible carbon taxes. As well as curbing oil use, high prices have put tar sands in business which create far more carbon dioxide than conventional oil. Profits are going to ugly oil-fed regimes, not Western exchequers. And the wild unpredictability of prices will blunt the effect of dear oil on people's behaviour.
From this perspective, governments should speed up the adjustment—or at least stop delaying it. Half the world's people are sheltered from fuel prices by subsidies—which, perversely, have boosted demand and mostly benefited the better off. Now countries like Indonesia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka have begun to realise that they can ill afford this. Cutting fuel taxes in the rich world makes no sense either (see article). There are better ways to return cash to struggling voters.
The 1970s showed how demand and supply, inelastic in the short run, eventually give rise to conservation and new production. When all those new fields are on-stream, when the SUVs have been sold and the boilers replaced, the downcycle will take hold. By then the slow-motion oil shock could have catalysed momentous change. Right now motorists have no substitute for oil. But it is no coincidence that car companies are suddenly accelerating their plans to sell electric hybrids that are far cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars at these prices. The first two oil shocks banished oil from power generation. How fitting if the third finished the job and began to free transport from oil's century-long monopoly.