Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oil and the Casino Economy

At night I regularly listen to AM talk radio from the United States. And lately the most common topic of conversation has been the price of gasoline. Talk-show hosts rant and rave as do their callers, pointing out, probably quite rightly that soon the price of gas will cripple the US economy and cause great suffering to many people. Some callers are fond of pointing out that the roots of this problem in the US can be found in the history of the Reagan Administration which effectively put a halt to sponsorship to alternative energy research. “By this time,” they like to say, “we would have been completely energy independent if not for Reagan.” Maybe so, but largely irrelevant now. Meanwhile, in an exercise of pure public relations, the US senate calls in Oil Executives and grills them on the hill as if the head of Mobil or BP really sets the price of Gas, and as if, even if they did, the Congress would do anything about it anyway. But what is remarkable about all this is that I have never once heard, whether on talk radio or on television or in print, any one in the US offer a single solution to the problem. A talk radio host in Boston is attempting to get everyone in the US to put a sign in their car that just says “I am mad about the price of Gas.” This is the extent of acceptable activism in the US. But of course, besides the long term solutions of shifting energy production and usage to clean renewable sources, the only real solutions to the price of Gas in the US and elsewhere are things that people are not even willing to talk about: to wit; nationalize oil production and breakup the cartel of OPEC. People in Venezuela pay ten cents a gallon for gas because of a nationalized oil program. Now, first of all, I understand that in the long term, such a solution will not address the important environmental issues. But what I am really getting at here is that as capitalism begins to spiral out of control in many parts of the global economy, the very solutions that capitalism has made available are ones that people will not consider because prevailing ideology has managed to take real solutions off the table. Marx was careful to point out that a mode of production creates the very conditions for its evolution. In this case capitalism has created profoundly useful structures of production and distribution but the casino economy makes the delivery of certain goods (food is another prime example) unworkable. The solutions to these problems are simple; it is time for society at large to take control of certain systems of production and distribution in the interest of everyone. In the past six months most of the gains on global poverty made in the past decade have quickly eroded due to oil and food prices. But it is not want of supply that is the issue, it is the casino economy that is the problem. When the economy no longer serves the interest of people, it is time for people to take control of the economy.

Wait until gas in the US is ten or fifteen dollars a gallon and suddenly it will become patriotic to talk about nationalization.

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