June 02, 2005

Ceramics and Finances

Dafydd posting at Patterico's blog predicts that ceramics will be the next big thing in automative technology. Being far more heat resistant than steel, they can be heated almost five times more than current engines, allowing far greater fuel efficiency. I thinkt hat's a pretty sound analysis, and that it's easier to sell new engines than to change the fuel infrastructure of the US.

But I disagree with his point that it would devastate Arab economies. Granted, it will definitely affect the oil-rich countries and drive prices way down, but at the same time most of the richest oil countries have already diversified. Much Arab oil wealth was already reinvested by the 1970s and 1980s such that over half of Arab wealth was in Western bank accounts in London, New York and Zurich - investing in the same things Westerners were. So the rich Arab sheikhs and emirs will continue to be fabulously wealthy because they were smart enough to spread out from the oil industry.

We need to remember just how much money these people had. Kuwait had so much cash that they had such lavish welfare as to make a Scandinavian blush (as a professor of mine put it). In fact, for years Kuwaiti public telephones were free of charge. All of these rich countries invested generously in everything you can imagine, philanthropy (Saudi Arabia bought Kigali, Rwanda a state-of-the-art hospital, no strings attached) and finances. They have diversified and if oil were suddenly worthless in 2010 they'd still be loaded.

Of course, many of the poorest workers would struggle to find more jobs, but it doesn't take vast natural resources to be wealthy - ask Hong Kong. They would take a hit, but ultimately they've got a lot of educated people and they've been preparing for oil to be worthless since the 1970s by spreading out into other fields of investment.

Now, I do agree that we wouldn't have to pay as much attention to them without their grip on the world's energy, but the Arab world has been sending terrorists everywhere to attack us. The determining factor in Western involvement in the Middle East is fighting terrorism moreso than it is energy concerns. To that end, we should invest ourselves in the idea of encouraging wealth of average Arabs, not stifling it. Desperate Arabs are more dangerous.

It's a good technological prediction, but I find it a poor geopolitical one. After all, we're not in the Philippines fighting Abu Sayyaf because of vast crude resources in Leyte Gulf. Terrorism is the real reason for our current involvement in Arab and Muslim countries. Maybe twenty or ten years ago we could have abondoned our relationship with oil-rich Gulf states if oil became obsolete, but today there's too much else at stake.

2 Comments:

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