European debt crisis and oil affordability

Well it looks as though it wouldn't be much fun being the next Prime Minister of either Greece or Italy right now. It is a poisoned chalice. Who wants to introduce austerity measures and remain electable? Any concerned citizen can see what is coming for New Zealand when our trading partners are in this sort of trouble. Richard Douthwaite, the green economist from Ireland, has written the most amazing chapter in FEASTA's book Fleeing Vesuvius. He explains the connection between declining oil supplies and the trend of rich countries to run deficits. Taking Ireland as an example, he lists the cost of mineral fuel imports, the value of exports and then works out the fuel cost as a percentage of export earnings. It rose from 2.4% in 2001 to 7.6% in 2008. Exports are the only means by which the country can earn the money it needs to pay the interest on its overseas borrowings. He explains that a country that runs a deficit on its trade in goods and services for several years will find that its firms and people get heavily in debt because a dense web of debt has to be created within that country to get the purchasing power, lost as a result of the deficit, back into everyone's hands. After a careful explanation, one of his conclusions is that it is dangerous and destabilising for any country, firm or individual to borrow overseas and net capital movements between countries should be prohibited. This is rather startling, but when you think about it foreign capital creates problems when it enters a country and when it leaves the country. When it comes in it boosts the exchange rate, thus hurting firms producing for the home market by making imports cheaper. It also hurts the exporters, reducing their overseas earnings when they convert them into national currency. As a result, when the loan has to be repaid, the country is in a weaker position to do so than it was when it took the loan on.  And managing borders obeys one of the laws of Nature. The late Rod Donald, former co-leader of the Greens, used to go on and on about the balance of payments in New Zealand and I can see why. Both the National Party and the Labour Party seem to be taking our country into more and more debt. We have borrowed around $40 billion in the last three years. Someone should work out our trend over the last few years. We need to find a list of the fuel cost as a percentage of export earnings and the ratio of total external debt to exports.  

Petroleum imports now $7.7 billion a year

The NZ Herald on Thursday Oct 27, 2011 reported that our imports of petroleum (read crude oil) climbed 22% to $7.7 billion in the year.

Not an election issue of course. After all the National government, and presumable Labour if they miraculously were elected, thinks it is business as usual. Import oil and one day maybe the price will go down?? What are they really thinking and what do they really know about the global oil situation?

I had some difficulty finding an annual figure for crude oil imports because a search revealed monthly imports and sudden rises like 53% rise in Aug 11 was explained away by saying we have large, irregular shipments of crude oil arriving at Marsden Point and some months the imports are low. However I finally found a figure for the whole year, authoritative and three days old only.

$7.7 billion is more than twice what we spend each year on law and order, it is nearly half the health budget. If the cost of importing oil goes on increasing at the same rate the price would equal the health budget in three years' time.

In fact if it keeps rising by 22% a year, by 2016 the cost of crude oil imports will be $20.81billion which will be approaching what we spend on social security and welfare.

I guess the theory is that if we assume all is going to be business as usual, then we will all benefit from more transport. Somehow all this expensive oil will bring jobs and prosperity.... dreams are free I guess.