America: Doomed By Scarcity, Doomed By Plenty, Doomed, Doomed!

  • Date: 04/01/13
  • Walter Russell Mead, Via Meadia

Pessimists move so fast they can make your head spin. A few months ago, the conventional wisdom held that America was running out of oil and gas—and so was the whole world. Peak oil and an age of scarcity were falling upon us. Alas and alack, o woe!

But then a few people and publications, including VM, began to take note of something new: vast, once-inaccessible U.S. energy reserves that might outstrip all the reserves in the Middle East (and Canada has even more than we do).

This did not fox pessimists and worriers for long. David Rothkopf has gotten in fastest with what we expect will soon be a common theme: America, once doomed because it had no more oil, is now even more doomed because it has too much:

It looks like the United States is showing the early symptoms of a particularly nasty case of the Resource Curse. The dreaded syndrome, also known as Hugo Chávezitis, tends to strike countries when they tap into large finds of oil, gas, or other valuable natural resources. Although such bonanzas clearly have their advantages, the influx of new wealth often leads countries to neglect real underlying problems or the requirements of long-term growth simply because they can spend their newfound riches to paper over their troubles. Political leaders don’t have to do the hard work of building human capital and promoting sustainable economic growth—they can just coast along, riding the benefits of the resource boom.

Oh woe, alackaday! America is obviously extremely, extremely doomed.

Rothkopf is no slouch as a thinker, and his article makes some important points. But it’s worth remembering that America has actually suffered under a whole host of resource curses, beginning at least as far back as the day the Virginian colonists figured out what tobacco was good for. Some of the resource booms really were terrible curses, like cotton. Yet we’ve staggered through gold rushes, oil booms, the opening of the mind-boggling bounty of the Middle West farm belt, and others too numerous too mention. (Poor New England was afflicted with the cod curse for centuries.)

In a word, while we aren’t immune to the temptations and the stupidities that come with natural abundance, we have so far managed to survive all the terrible trials by plenty that nature has thrown at us.

We’ll probably survive this one too.

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