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Two Doles and some forgiveness

Two Doles and some forgiveness

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Published by Douglas Knight

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Published by: Douglas Knight on Jun 27, 2011
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Two Doles and Some ForgivenessThere are many pacts of mutual dependency, some good, some not so. Let's have a look acouple that are not so good, and which are vaguely related. We'll start with the global, thenlook at the local.The Middle East supplies us with cheap oil. There is oil elsewhere in world, but it hasn¶tcome onto the market yet because it is too expensive for us to extract. Over many happydecades our industry, and our societies, have got used to this cheap oil. So used to it that itis now a question whether we could convert to the more expensive stuff, which is soon to bethe only oil there is. Without oil, we are capable of no economic activity at all. The West is ona petroleum dole, which the Arabs (and Russians and Venezuelans) are kind enough tosupply. So far, we do not resent being on this dole, and they do not resent supplying it.But this is another dole which flows the other way. The Middle East does not feed itself. Boththe rich oil-exporters, with their smaller populations, like Saudi and the Gulf States, and thepoor oil-importers with their larger populations, like Egypt and Syria, import their food. TheMiddle East relies on the grain dole from grain exporting countries, which chiefly means fromthe United States. In Egypt and Syria, food makes up more than half household budgets, sorises in the price of bread and other necessities can quickly create panic. Rising grain prices,caused by some poor harvests and by China¶s growing demand and exacerbated byspeculation, will continue to cause upheaval in the Middle East. Political instability wouldkeep the oil price volatile. Then there is the fact that there is no more cheap oil to pump. Wehave reached the ceiling ± at least of the cheap oil. Not even Saudi Arabia, that Westernstooge, can increase the amount it is pumping to save us the West from economicimplosion. Its rulers know that if the West suffers a depression there will be less demand for the oil and so reduced revenues to pay for domestic peace in Saudi Arabia.So, if they don't grow their own food, don¶t have an adequate agriculture (and certainly notan adequate industry) what do these Middle Eastern countries do? You know the answer tothat. They have babies. This the advantage of Islam: it is unashamed and easily-enforcedpatriarchy. Women are unable to say no to it, so child-bearing is their lot. The Western graindole to the Middle East has subsidised a decades-long population explosion. Unfortunatelythese large poor populations are so undeveloped economically that they are unable to buyour services, so we cannot help them and they cannot help us to grow out of our dependencies. If these countries don't have oil, or can't pump more oil, and don¶t have other industrial sectors, what is to stop these populations from sinking into destitution?But it could be that the United States and the rest of us are now so dependent on oil that ischeap, that we also vulnerable to sudden price movements. Could we adapt in time to thesteep climb in oil price that would make US shale oils become economical to extract? Thedisappearance of the cheap oil could be so sudden that we cannot make the technologicalswitch quickly enough to bring the more difficult, more expensive to extract, reserves on line.If price rises take oil beyond the reach of a large proportion of the population, they will be outof work, and soon living a much more hand-to-mouth existence. Even if oil became cheaper again, there would not be equivalent return of demand through re-investment and re-hiring.The damage would have been done. If the Middle East had a stronger political culture, theoil price might have been pushed up so steadily over a long enough period that we could allhave reduced our dependence on it.Closer to home there is another one-way dependency is at work. Here in the UK everycorner shop is owned and run by Pakistanis, Indians, or in my part of London, by Turks.These Muslims (together with Hindus and Sikhs to be sure) keep those corner shops open.Every evening you will see the British going out to buy their alcohol from Muslims. Thosewho despise alcohol sell it. It is another of those self-hatred pacts that have turned into amutual-contempt pact. They sell this alcohol to single white men who, having no family of 
 
their own, live alone, and need the alcohol in order to experience a few hours escape frompossessive individualism into the solidarity of the tribe. If you are still on your own, or on your own again, in your forties you need a certain amount of alcohol. You have control the feelingthat everyone else is part of a family, that you have been discarded and are the only onewho is on their own. A few beers keep at bay that dread sense that you are either repugnantor invisible to everyone else in the street.So we here in the UK are entirely dependent on the extended family, albeit the Asian family.Every street in the UK has a corner shop, where you buy the booze that helps you out of isolation and into the great tribe of the happy. Without these corner shops, therefore, manyBritish people would never experience any sense of being members of the group. Unlike therest of us, Asians live and work in extended families. In the three-generation household,grandparents look after grandchildren freeing up parents so that they can keep these shopsopen all hours. In the extended family every adult works without taking a wage out of thebusiness, and this is what allows these corner shops to remain open. The British nuclear family, made of husband and wife alone, cannot keep up the eighteen hour days, cannotafford to pay staff from these small takings, and probably cannot endure the boredom of taking a large number of very small value transactions from the drunk or disturbed. So, sincethey are dependent on staying happy through the services of corner shop, which is mannedby them, the British are entirely dependent on the extended family. They are not dependenton their own family, but someone else¶s.Now back to that other dependency. What happens if we consume our way through all thecheap oil? Remember it is the political weakness of the Middle East, not unrelated to Islam¶sinability to allow developed political institutions, that has meant that oil has been kept socheap for so long. This means that we will not experience a long slow rise in the price of oil,but a sudden and rapid one, perhaps too rapid to give our economy time to adjust. Many willbe thrown out of work. What happens to this out-of-work population? If they think that this isall the fault of other people, of capitalism and government, there will be political upheaval,and lawlessness and violence. Each of us will find a new family in the mob. But mostly, eachof them will believe that their circumstances are the result of their own personal inadequacy.Then each will retreat to the chair before the TV and drink themselves to death, drinkbecoming more important in home or food, so that they disappear individually, and no onenotices.Everyone is talking about default and forgiveness. Debt forgiveness means debtcancellation. We could write down one another¶s mortgages, or, if we delay because werealise what this will cost us, that debt will be defaulted on and repudiated entirely anyway.This would mean that all our savings and pensions disappear at a stroke, large numbers of us become destitute and the country goes into economic depression. So, for those who arecloser to the end of their careers than the beginning, forgiveness is not without cost.We have put one another on two sets of doles. The older have put the young into more debtthan they can carry, and making unlikely that the young will succeed economically, and morelikely that they will default on their debts to the old. By placing such levels of debt onto theyoung the old have put themselves into danger. The Westerners have give up the extendedfamily, but have made their own children dependent on the liquid comfort provided by our corner shops, thereby ensuring that those extended Asian families will inherit the high street ± though theirs may also be the only business still open there. And Westerners have made itmore difficult to take their cheap oil dole from the Middle East. They have subsidised andsupported populations which are so weak politically that they could not push up the priceenough in order to hang onto their oil reserves, and so weak economically that they couldnot prevent even what agriculture they did have from being destroyed by cheap importedgrain. So doles are not good. They make dependent populations even more dependent. Thisis as true for oil-dependent Western nations as it is for bread-dependent Arab ones.

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