Monday, April 16, 2007

The First Law of Petropolitics

Tom Friedman's first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, is, in my opinion, the best introduction to the tinderbox that is the Middle East. His two subsequent dead trees, The Lexus and the Olive Tree and Longitudes and Latitudes, were equally important and brilliant.

But then Tommy Boy got lazy. He dramatically narrowed his focus to the politics of oil, and his columns became eminently predictable and uninteresting. (Similarly, I haven’t read his latest book, The World Is Flat, since his NYTM article on same seemed sufficiently informative.)

As it turns out, I haven't missed much, since one year ago, Friedman teamed up with Foreign Policy magazine to test his theories in graph form:

Along one axis we would plot the average global price of crude oil, and along the other axis we would plot the pace of expanding or contracting freedoms, both economic and political, as best as research organizations such as Freedom House could measure them.

The result: the "first law of petropolitics," which holds that

the price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. . . . [T]he higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. And these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world thinks or says about them. Conversely, according to the First Law of Petropolitics, the lower the price of oil, the more petrolist countries are forced to move toward a political system and a society that is more transparent, more sensitive to opposition voices, and more focused on building the legal and educational structures that will maximize their people’s ability, both men’s and women’s, to compete, start new companies, and attract investments from abroad. The lower the price of crude oil falls, the more petrolist leaders are sensitive to what outside forces think of them.

I think I sense a new book in the works.