Without Oil, There Would Be No Oil-Hating Billionaires
AP Photo/LM Otero, File
Without Oil, There Would Be No Oil-Hating Billionaires
AP Photo/LM Otero, File
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Washington Post columnist Christine Emba writes that “There’s rarely a good reason to cheer for a billionaire.” And members of the Left say conservatives are “mouthbreathers” and “fringe”… Emba handily gives the most QAnon of the Right a run for their money.

Indeed, it would be hard to find a more ludicrous assertion than Emba’s. Without the billionaires that Emba loathes, life as we know it would be quite a bit more challenging. Who among us would give up air conditioning, medicines and vaccines that elongate and improve life, the internet along with the supercomputers connected to the internet that sit in our pockets, the cars, trains, container ships, and planes that bring the world’s plenty to our doorsteps frequently in 24 hours, not to mention the fuel that moves those cars, trains, ships and planes.  

Important about what’s mentioned above is that it only scratches the surface of what the rich have brought to us in the process of creating wealth. What could Emba be thinking?

At the same time, the wealth-loathing Emba makes an exception to her blanket assertion about “billionaires.” After bashing the superrich, Emba asserts that “for Yvon Chouinard, it might be worth suspending” her rule.

For those who don’t know, Chouinard is the founder of apparel brand Patagonia, and he recently announced a plan to give his billions away (Patagonia is valued at $3 billion) “for the cause of protecting the Earth.” The theory that is global warming has Emba worried, which means she’s willing to suspend her broad billionaire disdain for a self-flagellating type like Chouinard.

Up front, it’s Chouinard’s money. If he fears global warming, he should feel free to spend accordingly. If he feels guilty, he should feel free to give away accordingly. It’s also worth pointing out that what he’s achieved in business is miraculous. His billions prove it. As evidenced by how rich he is, Chouinard discovered a major market need. That’s quite an achievement in an increasingly interconnected world full of companies meeting the needs of the world. Contra Emba, there’s nearly always a good reason to cheer billionaires, and this includes Chouinard. Those with the courage to pursue a business idea in the frequent face of ridicule and bankruptcy (the life of entrepreneurs) rate our clapping and admiration.

Emba feels differently, and in feeling that way, makes the oddest of odd assertions. Think about it. And in thinking about it, stop and think about how primitive our world was before the discovery of fossil fuels like oil. Life was quite simply brutal.

It was defined by near uniformity of work of the farming variety, and that was the case simply because a lack of tractors and fertilizer forced the vast majority of the world’s population to spend all of their lives on the provision of food that there was never enough of.

Yes, starvation was far more of the global norm in the 19th century. So was death itself. Those born in the 19th century had as good of a chance of dying as they did living. Which is kind of a statement of the obvious. With so much effort directed toward food, there was no time to spend on medicine and other advances necessary to elongate life. Put another way, life was shorter in the 19th century (most didn’t die of cancer simply because pneumonia and tuberculosis killed us first), and it was quite a bit less healthy. One reason Americans drank so much was because clean water was in such short supply.

Oil was instrumental in erasing so much suffering. In that case, thank goodness for oil and the rich individuals who got that way by bringing it to individuals around the world who desperately needed its fruits.

John D. Rockefeller was the most successful of the oil men. In his lifetime alone, he gave away $530 million; $450 million of it directed toward doctors and medical science. Abundant wealth born of oil freed those with a scientific bent to pursue the creation of drugs that would vanquish life’s former killers.

Of greater importance, the oil powered all manner of machines. This brilliant automation of work was the biggest job killer in the history of mankind, but few complained. How could they? How could they complain about automation that would free them from a backbreaking life on the farm? Most of all, how could they complain about the discovery of immense power that would render a daily fear about insufficient food yesterday’s news?

The simple truth is that the petroleum-powered automation of work formerly done by desperate hands proved manna from heaven for people so fortunate as to reap its benefits. What renders human labor moot doesn’t put us out of work much as it frees us to specialize. And when we’re able to specialize, work is much less like work. Instead, work becomes a showcase of sorts. It’s where we get to do what we’re good at doing. Please consider Chouinard in these terms.

Without shrinking his monumental achievements one iota, it should be said that Patagonia is surplus. Patagonia’s multi-billion dollar valuation is a consequence of increasingly abundant disposable income. Chouinard’s fortune is just that precisely because the world is more and more populated by the well to do. And because we’re well to do, we have the means to purchase clothing not because we need it, but because we like it.

From there, it’s easy to say that absent oil and its byproducts, there’s no “billionaire philanthropist Yvon Chouinard.” No chance at all. His billions are a function of an increasingly prosperous world, and one that’s been made prosperous by its figurative shrinkage care of oil.

Please keep this in mind as Chouinard gives his wealth away to “save the planet.” This implies a world without fossil fuels. More than Chouinard would care to admit, and certainly more than Emba is capable of grasping, Chouinard is yelling at himself with his philanthropy. And in the process he’s exposing his cheerleaders as even denser than the densest One America Network viewer.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His next book, The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution, comes out on October 18th. 

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