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Category — Oil, Gas & Government: The U.S. Experience (Bradley)

Wartime Energy Planning: Not Good for Veterans (or civilians either)

[Editor Note: This discussion is taken from chapter 5 of the author’s Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience (Cato Institute: 1996).]

“Allocation regulation, in turn, sought to cure the problems created by price regulation. Government intervention during wartime encounters many examples of regulation begetting other regulation, a major theme of peacetime intervention as well.”

Government direction of economic activities, rare in U.S. history, has typically accompanied wartime situations. In particular, government petroleum planning has occurred during World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. Standby oil and gas planning also followed the Korean Conflict.

General Theory

Economic understanding reaches the conclusion that consumers are best served when entrepreneurs are not subsidized or penalized by government involvement.  Conceived abstractly, consumers could be a private individual or even a government agency. Furthermore, the conditions surrounding production and consumption are not defined; it could have been during wartime, the aftermath of a calamity, or a period of relative tranquility.

The question is: can the market be relied upon in wartime as in peacetime? [Read more →]

November 11, 2013   4 Comments

The Essential ‘Oil, Gas & Government’ (Kudos to a treatise in the age of the blog)

While recently researching energy history for a writing project, I was reminded of how valuable–and underrated–Robert Bradley’s Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience is. While there are countless books covering the history of energy from one angle or another, very few, in my experience, can be counted on for precision and accuracy.

The majority of books I read that reference early petroleum history, for example, tell a radically oversimplified narrative of petroleum replacing whale oil. However, if one reads Harold Williamson and Arnold Daum’s definitive two-volume The American Petroleum Industry, [1] one learns about a far more intricate and interesting progress, including the one-time dominance of camphene, a turnpentine-based illuminant that preceded petroleum–or the story of “coal oil,” which was once believed to be the illuminant of the future. (I discuss this history in my essay Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market.)

What distinguishes Williamson and Daum–and Oil, Gas, and Government–is the systematic use of primary sources. For a researcher, this certainly makes life more difficult as it is far easier to use popular accounts as jumping-off points.

But the researchers who undergo this difficult task give the rest of us an enduring resource. Williamson and Daum present the essential technological and economic history of the industry through the 1950s, with exact quantitative data and contemporaneous images throughout. Bradley’s book gives us the essential political and political-economic history of the oil and gas industry through the 1980s, with pains-taking attention to detail. [Read more →]

May 25, 2012   2 Comments