Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Crude World

As a direct consequence of the previous book I wrote about, the world of those involved with various transactions with raw materials is crude, at least immoral and violent: A crude world. Among all the resources, oil benefited of a triple attention and was introduced as actor in various evaluations of political and geopolitical moves. The war in Iraq? Of course, the cause is the oil, many answered automatically with a self-sufficient air. But what about Afghanistan? Wait and see, something have to be there excepting poppy...

What we don't talk too much is the fact that the natural resources, in wrong hands, prove to be lethal weapons turned against the population and democracy. In Iraq, not the American soldiers sold the oil for getting money for building expensive presidential palaces, but Saddam's clique. This is only an example. 

Peter Maass started the documentation  for the book started long before 9/11 and the author visited several countries as Nigeria, Russia, Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Iraq or Kuwait. The author is following the idea of the "resources curse": natural resources, specifically oil, creates many troubles and it is not the automatic condition for improving the economic status. South Korea and Japan might be good examples in this direction. Among the cases analized - in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America - all the countries are fighting with institutionalized corruption, democratic deficit and economic unbalances. The notable exception: Norway enjoying lots of resources and equally a vibrand economy and a democratic system. In many situations, as it is the case in Russia or Saudi Arabia (who possesses 21% of the world's conventional reserves, p. 17), information about the volume of resources are classified under the category of "state secret", allowing abuses and various infringements of the international legislation.

But, oil also brought know-how, created the need for highly educated specialists becoming part of the local elites and international investments. In the latter case, the big companies adapted very rapidly to the local customs and are eager to pay as many bribes as possible to get their fields or investments. All you need is to ask "What's your number?"

The situation is not deadlocked, even it will be very difficult to challenge the deep culture of abuse and manipulation, lasting for centuries: the creation of monitoring bodies in terms of business ethics, implementation of transparent legislation, the push for democracy and rule of law all over the world. The interest for alternative energies might switch progressively the interest to other kind of energy resources, with a less appetite for arbitrary. By then, I completely agree with this affirmation (p.118):  “Like a nation or nationality, the industry has its particular belief system, its financial and political interests, its social layers and pecking orders. In some ways, it has the hallmarks of a political party and a religious movement”.

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