Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Saudi Oil Subsidy?

Saudi Arabia is proposing that the developed world compensate the kingdom for any global warming-related decline in the demand for crude oil. You have to love the thinking: We expect to be paid a lot of money for our oil one way or another. Either demand outstrips supply and prices stay high, or demand falls short and you make up the difference. Heads I win. I said heads I win.

Maybe we should just subsidize everyone anytime demand for their product falls. Perhaps we should have been paying off the buggy whip manufacturers these past 100 years since they were unfairly disadvantaged by the automobile firms. Should we all compensate Canada if we ever stop building houses out of lumber? Or bail out the French if people stop drinking wine? Or compensate the U.S. if... Bad example. The only thing we're good at manufacturing these days are loans and dollar bills.

Of course, the Saudis can't really be serious. They'd still be a fourth world backwater sand lot if it weren't for oil. They've had decades to put that wealth to work in diversifying their economy rather than paying off all of their princes. I think their latest census showed one out of every three people was a prince. The other two either worked for a prince or were a king.

The Saudis know that this proposal will never fly, but this is how you negotiate. You never come to the table with what you reasonably expect. If I want a new set of golf clubs, I don't ask my wife for a new set of golf clubs. I tell my wife that we should sell the house and buy a newer more expensive home right on the golf course. Voila. I get a new set of golf clubs.

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