This is the first part of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).
Dr. Kadri is an affiliate of the Laboratory for Advanced Research on the Global Economy at the London School of Economics (LSE). The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at LSE. The remaining parts will appear once a week for the next four weeks. The full interview is available here.
Part 1: What role do oil prices play in the global economy and why might it matter to human rights?
If one were to consider the sensationalised view of oil or the opinion that holds that oil is an uniquely suitable source of energy, then the case may be that the expansion of the world’s population—from around 2 billion in 1925 to 7 billion (currently)—could not have been possible without the energy that oil had provided. However, that is a perspective that bestows upon oil, the commodity itself, a life of its own.
In fact, our dependence on oil is ordained by a set of social relationships that necessitates the use of oil for profit making as opposed to alternative sources of energy that respect social and environmental concerns. When our way of reproducing society (maintaining the needs of society from one period to the next by social measures) shifts from being dictated by the profit criterion to the social value criterion (as in goals which are common to society as a whole), research into the employment of other sources of energy may lead to equal or maybe better sources of energy.
Nevertheless, oil and fuels represent the foremost traded commodity globally. Oil is also important because variants on the initial commodity make up the inputs of nearly all the manufactured commodities. But oil is a strategic commodity because countries that depend on oil imports for their energy and have no immediate sources to replace oil become extremely vulnerable on the security front, if and when oil shortages arise. Hence, for the hegemonic powers, especially the U.S., controlling the sources of oil in the Arab world, by subjugating or subverting the governments of oil-rich countries, can become a source of immense power and/or a weapon of strategic value. For the U.S., the power emanating from hegemony over oil resources underwrites the issuance of the world reserve currency, the dollar, and many other imperial rents wrought as a result of its imperial status.
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