Broker Check

Fracking’s Fat Tail (Part 1)

| March 23, 2018

Today, I’m following up on my recent posting The President’s Trade Gambit

Specifically, I’ve just read two books that touch on this subject (nationalism/protectionism) from a geopolitical and historical perspective.  More specifically, author Peter Zeihan proposes that the American energy renaissance, propelled by “fracking” technology, makes it possible (or at least tempting) for America to give up its role as worldwide cop, and guarantor of free trade.  The two books are The Accidental Superpower1 and The Absent Superpower2.

The story begins near the end of WWII in the remote village of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.  It was there that the Allied powers agreed to a post-war world order.  The most well-known aspect of that agreement was the establishment of the American dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  That piece of the agreement remains to this day, and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.  A second feature of the agreement was for the U.S. to provide security for its allies, all of whom had devastated economies and virtually depleted male, fighting-age populations. And, most relevant to Trump’s tariff proposals, was that the U.S. offered to become the world’s greatest consumer and importer; thus to help war-torn nations, former enemies, as well as friends, rebuild their industrial and commercial base. 

Notwithstanding the promised role of consumer/importer, America at that time was a net energy exporter.  We may have been flooded with low-priced (and often low-quality) German and Japanese products in the 1950’s, but neither of those countries was exporting oil.  The Arabian and Iranian oil fields were not yet prolific, and OPEC didn’t exist. 

But, of course, that changed. Hence, our more or less continuous involvement in the Middle East these past forty-odd years.  Which brings us to the crux of Zeihan’s argument:  If the U.S. is once again energy independent (or nearly so); and if Americans are fed up with committing their boys and girls to fight in places where America has no legitimate self-interest; and if our well-paying jobs are being exported to China, Korea, et al.; then Donald Trump, (or someone like him) is going to lead America back to relative isolation. 

More next time in Part 2, so until then, PATIENCE, DISCIPLINE, and CONFIDENCE in the FUTURE.  mh

  1. Zeihan on Geopolitics, 2014
  2. Zeihan on Geopolitics, 2017

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