As many Western economies are seemingly slowing down again, with most of them still struggling with stubbornly high unemployment levels, they will only benefit from the current sharp drop in oil prices which will stimulate the global economy. Moreover, countries now have the opportunity to replenish stocks and protect themselves against future price hikes. Stockpiling begs the question: how long will prices remain relatively low compared to recent years? Will they fall further? $60 would certainly kick start substantial economic activity or will supply be rained back?
In the past, we have seen the US and its Western partners put pressure on OPEC, and the world's only swing producer Saudi Arabia, to increase supply so as to lower prices or maintain price stability. Are we about to see them create further price fixing market imperfections by asking the Saudis to cut production so as to create a return to higher prices? Much of the Western economic commentaries are suggesting the Middle East will fall apart as falling oil revenues will create unaffordable budget deficits, cuts in government spending, and political uprisings amongst their populations and ultimately scare Middle Eastern governments into considering cutting back on OPEC supply.
The recent period of high but stable oil prices has induced an economic recovery in the US based on lower oil and energy prices, propped up Putin's government and economy which has become more heavily dependent upon its oil revenues, and increased the sovereign wealth funds of the GCC countries of the Middle East. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has suffered economic malaise consigning a generation to a life of unemployment and it appears that some commentators may want to maintain this status quo. Lower oil prices would likely benefit all via economic growth, and not just a few nations self-interests. This brings us to ask: have we been sacrificing economic efficiency for US energy self-sufficiency?
Food prices are also likely to fall, as food production, processing and sales distribution are energy intensive activities, thereby benefiting lower income groups further. Increased consumption will stimulate aggregate demand, creating investment opportunities and economic growth. Governments in the west may also have the opportunity to increase fuel taxes to cover the real cost of the negative externalities of carbon emissions, or raise revenue to improve public transportation systems. Furthermore, governments in the Middle East and Asia will reduce spending on their fuel subsidies and may take the opportunity to improve the workings of market forces, which the IMF and Western powers have been seeking for them to do.
If we can enjoy a period of sustained low oil prices where consumer disposable incomes rise and increase world aggregate demand, we may witness recovery in Europe and rising growth rates again in Asia. This would fuel economic activity at a time when a generation has been lost to unemployment, and maybe allow them to regain for a better future. In this case oil prices will either recover, or rise in demand may equally bring about a rise in supply, ultimately increasing the revenues of oil produces.
Economic theory suggests that a lower price delivered by lowest cost producers is economically efficient. The lower prices will either force high cost producers out of the market or encourage them to seek lower cost technological solutions to stay in the market. The economic solution to our energy requirements is to invest in low cost producers instead of preventing them from reaching the market by financing chaos in the Middle East and Africa. Instead, supporting the development of low cost oil reserves in the Middle East and Africa would benefit these populations. The wealth created from oil revenues could be used to develop infrastructure, education, and health systems, rather than being frittered away by corruption and cronyism. However, this requires international oil and gas companies as well as the US government to rethink their geopolitical strategies and adopt the capitalist model of economic efficiency, rather than supporting a model of imperfect competition and short term self-interest. As the world's largest open economy, the US would benefit more in the long run from encouraging world economic growth, rather than trying to protect its high oil price by fair means or foul.
Read more at Brookings.edu