A Free-Market Energy Blog

U.S. Oil Exports: Open Letter to Bill O'Reilly from Economist Donald Boudreaux (Keystone XL a-okay)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 28, 2012

“[T]here is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

– Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. quoted here.

At Cafe Hayek, economist Donald Boudreaux, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, wrote an open letter to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s opposition to exporting U.S. oil to other countries. O”Reilly has a populist streak, and he is prone to seeing the seen and not the unseen when it comes to economics, a sin indeed to economics as a science.

Professor Boudreaux is a master educator and prolific letter writer on behalf of common-sense economics. Read his explanation about why the namesake of the O’Reilly Factor 1) gets his economics wrong and 2) fails to see the implication of his own argument to himself as exporting his services

Dear Mr. O’Reilly:

You’re all lathered up because U.S. oil companies are exporting much of their refined gasoline and heating oil to other countries and thereby putting upward pressure on fuel prices here in America.  You conclude that these companies have a moral obligation not to export so much….


First some economics.  Selling in the global market encourages firms to build larger factories and refineries that, in turn, enable outputs to be produced at lower costs per unit.  So while in the short-run rising exports of oil products can cause fuel prices here to spike, the long-run effect might well be lower prices because of larger, more-efficient scales of operation. 

Also, more exports of fuel products means more imports of other goods and services.  The result is lower prices in America for consumer goods such as clothing and furniture, as well as lower prices of inputs such as steel and industrial machinery used by American factories.

I was amused, by the way, that in your Feb. 17th discussion with Lou Dobbs, Mr. Dobbs shared your anger at rising U.S. oil exports.  This is the same Mr. Dobbs who repeatedly complains that the problem with America’s involvement in the global economy is that foreigners stubbornly refuse to buy sufficient amounts of American exports.  Go figure.


Now about your ethics.  You’re paid so handsomely because there’s a large nation-wide demand for your commentary and bombast.  In your career you’ve worked for broadcasters in Boston, Dallas, Denver, Hartford, and elsewhere.  And before moving to Fox you were a correspondent for ABC News. 

You apparently never hesitated to sell your product to the highest bidder; you never hesitated to export yourself from one market to another in search of higher pay; you never resisted the bidding for your services by buyers (i.e., employers) far and wide which put upward pressure on the amounts of money that you are paid, both to appear on television and to deliver lunch and dinnertime speeches.

So I ask: are you guilty of an offense against those many Americans who – as a result of your responding to market signals regarding the value of your services – must now pay higher prices for the privilege of hearing your commentary?  Should you return to your long-ago job at a local Scranton television station, at your long-ago lower salary, and apologize to the good people of Lackawanna County for your greedy and evil habit of exporting yourself to wherever and whoever offers to pay you more money?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

MasterResource posts in the Henry Hazlitt, seen-and-unseen economics tradition:

‘Green Jobs’: An Application of the Broken Window Fallacy (Henry Hazlitt speaks to us today) March 18, 2012

“The Lesson” Applied to President Obama’s State of the Union Speech Last Night  January 25, 2012


  1. Harry Dale Huffman  

    Ah, the fallacy of one, global, market. Is there only one, or are there still many, competing markets? Answer that first (and not with a quick, kneejerk response, either, which I know you have all ready, Mr. Boudreaux), before you castigate the guy who sees the local consumer suffering from an improperly globalized corporate oil outlook. And I am not arguing for one side or the other in this confrontation, I am merely saying I don’t see any solomonic expertise in Mr. Boudreaux’s position, just narrow and debatable economic dogma.


  2. rbradley  

    Mr. Huffman:

    “… consumer suffering from an improperly globalized corporate oil outlook”?? ” … I am not arguing for one side of the other …”??

    The post simply makes the point that an international division of labor from open borders is recommended for ‘the wealth of nations’, and we personally export our services to the higher bidder.

    The problem of high pump prices is due to government ownership abroad and government ownership and regulation at home. Subsoil privatization around the world is a great opportunity, as the work of Guillermo Yeatts documents.


  3. Marlo Lewis  

    Fine letter Don. Curious about one point: “Also, more exports of fuel products means more imports of other goods and services.” Presumably, more exports also leads to more domestic purchases and investment. Since many Keystone XL- bashers also fret about trade deficits (e.g. Ed Markey), I was expecting you to mention increased domestic purchases and investment as benefits too. Any reason for not doing so? Regards, Marlo


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