Tuesday, May 13. 2008
Andrew Leonard: The Peak Oil Culture Wars. Starts out from Paul Krugman's NY Times column on oil prices, specifically Krugman's note on how the conservatives are the ones atypically blaming speculators for the high prices. Then he goes on to make a point that is, I think, the linchpin to why modern American conservatism fails:
Of course, it's more than anathema. The central principle of modern American conservatism is that we all benefit when the rich get richer. This could be by trickle down, or it could simply be due to the superior moral model the rich provide -- and in any case the real trick to the equation is figuring out just who doesn't get included in that We. But in order for that logic to work at all, you have to assume that growth approaches infinity -- after all, the rich may have to get an awful lot richer before enough trickles down so that their servants become rich as well. Resource limits have the nasty effect of a positive sum game into zero sum or worse. In zero sum, one can win only at someone else's expense: hence rich and poor must inevitably struggle. And when they struggle, the outcome can easily sum up to less than zero. (This is a good part of the reason no one wins at war.)
Of the two great issues, oil depletion worries me much more than global warming. The latter is likely to take its toll indiscriminately, not least because climate is not something that can be owned. Oil, on the other hand, is something valuable that can be fought over. One big problem with conservatives is that they like to fight; moreover, they have no scruples about using force to deprive others of a resource (except, of course, when they themselves get mugged by a commoner). But oil also provides a clearer opportunity to reject conservatism and its two handmaidens: inequity and war. Or to put it equivalently: if we choose to reject inequity and war, we will necessarily reject conservatism.
If I had to bet, I'd bet against it, because I've only rarely seen lessons learned anyway but the hard way. Still, in a resource-starved, environmentally-stressed world, the options are hoarding and war on the one side, sharing on the other. Politically, that boils down to conservatism and democratic reform.