There are many things I want independence from, but foreign oil is not one of them. Foreign oil is my favorite kind of oil. It means other nations clog their beaches with ugly rigs, do dangerous work and suffer environmental disasters and I still get to cruise Hollywood in my yellow Mini Cooper convertible. Oil exploration is an industry America should look to expand right after alchemy research and pyramid building.
Yet Barack Obama and John McCain, in speeches and ads, have spent time arguing about who is most serious about achieving independence from foreign energy. Both are willing to drill offshore even though that won't produce more gasoline until long after we all own electric cars. And both want to relieve gas prices by tapping the government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, despite the fact that there's no emergency and higher prices are the only thing that has been effective at getting Americans to curb consumption of foreign oil.
The only smart thing I heard was Obama's advice to fully inflate your tires, although he overlooked the fact that gas stations no longer have free air pumps or even decent pay ones.
If the candidates wanted to be independent from all oil, I would embrace that green goal. But they hate only foreign oil – as if foreign oil was inherently different from good American oil.
To the commodities market, however, there is no American oil, no American cotton, no American aluminum, no American coffee – they all get bid on without national prejudice.
Oil sells on a global market
If we were energy independent, the politicians imply, prices wouldn't go up. But if you're an oil-striking American, you're going to shop your barrels to the highest bidder, not just to whiny Americans with their near-worthless dollars. More oil procured from under U.S. soil means more oil on the global market, not more oil for just us.
The candidates talk as if the U.S. were one giant energy-buying socialist entity that can choose exactly where all its oil comes from. In fact, the U.S. market consists of millions of individual global transactions, some of which you make at the gas station. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the U.S. bought oil from 90 countries and exported oil to 73 in 2007.
A country is not stronger if it produces everything itself. Econ 101 teaches you that everyone benefits when people who are good at one thing, such as having oil, can exchange it with people who are good at something else, such as sitting in offices and surfing the Web.
Even if we import less oil, we're still dependent on other nations. We import electricity from Mexico and Canada. We import 20 percent of our natural gas and 80 percent of the uranium for nuclear reactors.
Self-sufficiency won't make us safer either. Energy interdependence makes us more secure. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, for instance, we got oil to the ravaged Gulf Coast by buying extra from Venezuela and the Netherlands.
Robert Bryce, author of the new book “Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence,” is sure the presidential candidates know all of this. “The rhetoric is helping to support multibillion-dollar boondoggles like the ethanol scam,” he said. “When they say, ‘energy independence,' they mean, ‘Vote for me.' It's all it means.”
Think of monthly gasoline bill
The only solution to our energy panic, I believe, is to get monthly bills for gasoline, as we do for water, electricity and cell-phone minutes. All that staring at those hundredths of a cent speeding by on a gauge is bound to make people crazy, lashing out at foreigners and large corporations. If bartenders attached one of those things to their taps, we'd have candidates promising independence from foreign beer, too.