Mike D’Virgilio: Another Blow To Malthus And His Progeny

  • Date: 20/12/12
  • Mike D'Virgilio, The American Culture

One of the great surprises to almost everyone in this early part of the 21st Century is the explosion of American energy production. It is almost as shocking as the fall of the Berlin Wall, if not quite as iconic.

Growing up in the 1970s I learned that the earth was a fragile thing, that resources were limited and soon to run out, and that mankind could never produce enough to feed the burgeoning masses. I had not quite started driving when the first gas shortages of the early to mid 70s occurred, but I remember gas lines and odd/even days when my parents could buy gas. It seemed to me that the earth was in for a dire time and the future looked bleak.

Of course this is always the progressive mantra: too many people, not enough resources, Americans consume too much, blah, blah, blah. One of the mantras that everyone regardless of political stripe believed was that the days of America producing much oil or growing amounts of gas was over. We would obviously always be dependent on the Middle East and other parts of the world for our energy needs. Or not.

In fact one of the great surprises to almost everyone in this early part of the 21st Century is the explosion of American energy production. In “The North American Gusher” the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady says:

Among the world’s oil and gas producers, the U.S. is now growing the fastest. Even though the growth in U.S. demand for energy is slowing, the decline is offset by rising world demand. If North America’s total productive capacity in hydrocarbons increases by just 3% per year over the next 20 years, Mr. Mills says, the continent will become the largest supplier to burgeoning world markets.

This is almost as shocking as the fall of the Berlin Wall, if not quite as iconic. Maybe more so in that as far as I can tell there were no Ronald Reagan’s predicting anything like it. This surge can literally turn the geopolitical world upside down; it certainly helps when the good guys (that would be us just in case you’re a Democrat) have such energy leverage.

But how did this happen in a world of ostensibly scarce resources? According to the truncated materialist worldview of the modern liberal it shouldn’t happen. This worldview and its Mathusian assumptions infect much of Western culture. Its primary failing is that it never takes into account human nature, doesn’t even admit there is such a thing; since they are fundamentally materialists who eschew any sense of the transcendent or the philosophical, human beings are primarily social constructs enslaved to their environments.

So if it at one point in human history, say the 1970s, oil experts say we have 20 years left of oil, well that’s what we have. Better drive 55 so we don’t run out of the stuff. But human nature always seems to mess up liberal assumptions. To answer the question of how it did happen, just look to human ingenuity:

Mr. Mills’s paper points out that the Carter administration put restrictions on the use of natural gas because it believed there was so little to be had. Today’s bountiful oil and gas reserves, he notes, are “a function of technology, not of geology,” which is why it is revolutionary. “Technology unleashes resources, resource wealth creates capital, and capital is reinvested in new technology that in turn unleashes resources.” Market prices and the ability of investors to respond to supply and demand are crucial to this process.

Combine that ingenuity with free markets and the rule of law, and reasonable regulation, and you have America, energy giant of the 21st Century! Who woulda thunk it!

The American Culture, 18 December 2012