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Saturday, July 12, 2008

I Have a T-Bone to Pick...

(I had worried about the cheesiness of the title, but c'mon, it employs all three aspects of his name. Good enough for blogging work, I say.)

Most people with access to media have by now heard about T. Boone Pickens' "Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil." He has rightly been excoriated; my peeps at IER do so here. But like the adversaries of the father in Firestarter, I have had a phrase bouncing around in my head that will soon cause it to explode. I hope that this blog post relieves the pressure.

Anyway, here is the claim that is driving me crazy:

As imports grow and world prices rise, the amount of money we send to foreign nations every year is soaring. At current oil prices, we will send $700 billion dollars out of the country this year alone — that's four times the annual cost of the Iraq war. Projected over the next 10 years the cost will be $10 trillion — it will be the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.

I have seen people point out that the US federal government will take more than $10 trillion from US taxpayers over the next decade, and that's certainly correct. But I think the mistake in Pickens' argument is even deeper than its lack of imagination.

The fundamental flaw is this: Importing oil doesn't represent a wealth transfer. In exchange for our $10 trillion in cash, the rest of the world is giving us oil. And how much oil, you ask? Why, $10 trillion worth. Ain't that grand!

To see how ludicrous Pickens' claim is, we could easily imagine T. Buhn Piqenz in Saudi Arabia telling his brothers: "Why are we going to send the infidels $10 trillion of our oil over the next decade! That is the biggest transfer of wealth since the Six-Day War!"

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