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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

$50 Oil Could Cause Economic Collapse

$50 Oil Doesn’t Work

$50 per barrel oil is clearly less impossible to live with than $30 per barrel oil, because most businesses cannot make a profit with $30 per barrel oil. But is $50 per barrel oil helpful?
I would argue that it really is not.
When oil was over $100 per barrel, human beings in many countries were getting the benefit of most of that high oil price:
  • Some of the $100 per barrel goes as wages to the employees of the oil company who extracted the oil.
  • Often, the oil company contracts with another company to do part of the oil extraction. Part of the $100 per barrel is paid as wages to employees of the subcontracting companies.
  • An oil company buys many goods, such as steel pipe, which are made by others. Part of the $100 per barrel goes to employees of the companies making the goods that the oil company buys.
  • An oil company pays taxes. These taxes are used to fund many programs, including new roads, schools, and transfer payments to the elderly and unemployed. Again, these funds go to actual people, as wages, or as transfer payments to people who cannot work.
  • An oil company pays dividends to stockholders. Some of the stockholders are individuals; others are pension funds, insurance companies, and other companies. Pension funds use the dividends to make pension payments to individuals. Insurance companies use the dividends to make insurance premiums affordable. One way or another, these dividends act to create benefits for individuals.
  • Interest payments on debt go to bondholders or to the bank making the loan. Pension plans and insurance companies often own the bonds. These interest payments go to pay pension payments of individuals or to help make insurance premiums more affordable.
  • A company may have accumulated profits that are not paid out in dividends and taxes. Typically, they are reinvested in the company, allowing more people to have jobs. In some cases, the value of the stock may rise as well.
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We are certainly at a worrying point in history. Our networked economy is more complex than most researchers have considered possible. We seem to be headed for collapse because of low prices, rather than high. The base scenario of the 1972 book “The Limits to Growth,” by Donella Meadows and others, seems to indicate that the world will likely reach limits about the current decade.
The modeling done in 1972 laid out the basic situation, but could not be expected to explain precisely how collapse would occur. Now that we are reaching the expected timeframe, we can see more clearly what seems to be happening. We need to be examining what is really happening, rather than tying ourselves to outdated ideas of how the economic system works, and thus, what symptoms we should expect as we approach limits. It may be that $50 per barrel oil is one of the signs that collapse is not far away.

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