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Sunday, October 21, 2012

'Reducing Oil Imports'

Jim Hamilton:

Reducing oil imports, by Jim Hamilton: ...In 2011, the U.S. imported $462 billion of petroleum and petroleum products, or more than a billion dollars every day (see BEA Table 4.2.5). The fact that we import goods from other countries is not a problem per se. Standard economic theory teaches that if the U.S. imports some goods and exports others, the country overall will be richer than in the absence of trade, because the value of what we gain in imports is higher to us than the value of what we sell as exports. But in the current U.S. situation, our oil imports aren't balanced by other exports. Last year the U.S. spent $568 billion more on imported goods and services than we sold to other countries, with petroleum imports accounting for more than 80% of the total current account deficit
When we import more than we export, we have to pay for the difference either by selling off some of our assets or by borrowing more from foreigners. Notwithstanding, running a current account deficit could still be a way to make the country richer. If we use the imported goods and borrowed funds to invest in productive capital and useful infrastructure, we should have plenty of future resources to pay back all that we borrowed, with more left over for ourselves. In such a case, a big current account deficit could still be a win-win situation.
But what if we're not investing, and are just using the imports and foreign borrowing to enjoy a temporarily higher standard of living, leaving it to the future to pay the bills? That, too, could be economically optimal if what we most value as a nation is having more consumption spending right now.
But I'm not convinced that's the future that most Americans want. ...
I agree with the position taken by both President Obama and Governor Romney that presidential decisions need to encourage more oil production in the United States.
However, I would add that policies that discourage U.S. consumption of petroleum would also achieve the same goal. For example, trying to make more use of our natural gas resources for transportation is an idea that should appeal to Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. ...
I retain the hope that, whoever wins the election, they might seize the opportunity to move the country in a more positive direction by focusing on some goals and strategies on which both political parties should be able to agree.
Increasing U.S. oil production and decreasing U.S. oil consumption should be two such goals.

I see more difference between the candidates on the drill versus conserve continuum, and I'd guess I tilt more toward the conservation/find new energy sources end of the spectrum than he does. In addition, I wish the externalities associated with energy use and the need to use some form of regulation to reduce them (e.g. carbon tax, cap and trade, etc.) -- regulation that should discourage consumption -- had been mentioned (a point where the two parties clearly differ -- it matters who is elected).

    Posted by on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 10:23 AM in Economics, Oil | Permalink  Comments (19)


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