Friday, March 24, 2000

Oil and the Stockholm Syndrome

Fact No. 1: In 1980 the nominal price of oil (Arabian Light) was US$ 36 per barrel. In constant dollar prices calculated using the GDP deflator with 1998 as base, this was equivalent to US$ 67. By the end of 1998 the price of oil was US$ 12.20. In real terms it means that if the price index of oil in 1980 was 100% then in 1998 it was only 18%.
Fact No. 2: The index of oil products retail prices in 1980 was equal to 100%, in the United Kingdom, it reached 247% in 1998.
Fact No. 3: The amazing difference in how the two oil-related indexes developed can only be explained by taxes. As an example, in the UK in 1980 the ad-valorem taxes on gasoline were 85%; at the end of 1998 the same taxes were 456%.
Conclusion. Oil demand and oil prices are being held hostage by the taxes levied on various oil products by most oil-consuming countries. Had it not been for these sky-high discriminatory taxes, Venezuela would today be selling more oil at higher prices, easily repaying its foreign borrowings, and not even requiring a credit rating.
Adding insult to injury, the before mentioned taxes were slammed on Venezuela's main export at a time when the country was busy reducing custom duties and opening up its economy to all type of foreign competition.
It is difficult, then, to understand why, thanks to their country’s press, radio and television, Venezuelans can only worry and feel guilty of the fact that perhaps the recent increases in the price of oil will be the detonator for inflation and worldwide recession.
Could it be that the Stockholm syndrome affects Venezuela (as well as all of the OPEC nations)? As all pseudo-psychologists and writers should know, the Stockholm syndrome is what happens when someone that has been kidnapped finally becomes sympathetic with the position of his captors and ultimately even begins to defend them.
If you doubt what I am saying, just think of how our neoliberals, while talking up the maximization of income as one of their credos, blithely forgive their foreign heroes by either ignoring the issue or by creating lame environmental excuses or by simply repeating absurdities as “being rentist is really not very good for the country”. I would specially like to see them sustain this last thesis in other countries, for example in those that do all that is possible to maximize their rent from intellectual property, to the point of turning us into their best collectors.
That’s it then. There is no doubt in my mind that the Stockholm syndrome, or something very similar, is alive and well in Venezuela’s economic policies.
We need a couple of couch sessions, this time with psychologists that are very different from those we have used up to now. Dr. International Monetary Freund turned out to be simply an unethical Dr. Fraud. While the latter was pretending to give us good advice, he would travel behind our backs throughout the world, preaching the marvels of increasing taxes on oil-based products, and when this was not sufficiently convincing, simply forcing the adoption of the policy.
With its inaction, OPEC is also a prime suspect of having come down with the same affliction. I sure hope that during their sessions next week, to be held in Vienna, they will find time to get the advice of a true Dr. Freud.
Only then will they realize that at US$ 30 per barrel, the price of oil is still less than 45% of what it was in 1980.
Only then will they be able to understand the true injustice present when a taxman of a consumer country perceives an income 4.8 times more than the producer of a non renewable asset. During February this year, premium unleaded gasoline was sold at the pump in the UK for US$ 1.18 per liter, distributed as follows: 20 cts for the producer, 5 cts for the distributor and 93 cts for the British taxman.
Only then will they know that the world is not threatened by oil prices. The world and economic growth is above all, threatened by taxes implement for the sake of easy tax collection.
Only then will they remember to ask for a reduction of oil taxes, as a quid-pro-quo for any increase in oil production.
OPEC friends, … please remember Stockholm.
Calculations based on information in World Oil Trends 1999 published by Arthur Andersen and Cambridge Energy Research Associates.