Breathless, alarming evidence of the harm that oil inflicts on the world.
Mixing interviews and accounts of his visits to oil-rich nations, New York Times Magazine writer Maass (Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, 1997), makes the convincing case that oil enriches individuals but impoverishes nations. The author points out that the countries most successful at rising from poverty—including Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan—have almost no oil. It enriches nations with stable political systems (Norway, Canada, Britain) or so few people that the avalanche of money overwhelms a corrupt elite, so it can afford to spread it around (Kuwait, Brunei, United Arab Emirates). Otherwise, it brings misery. Oil converted Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, from a functional postcolonial state in 1960 to an impoverished, polluted, violent kleptocracy. As evidence that this is not unique, Maass recounts similar depressing stories from Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and former Soviet nations. Relatively stable governments are not immune. Although Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela are undoubtedly enriching themselves and their friends, they are genuinely devoted to their nation. Both enjoyed the good luck of taking office as oil prices began their spectacular climb, so they became popular at home and important players on the world scene. These benefits vanished when prices crashed, leaving them worse off than neighbors who had no oil. In the concluding chapter, Maass briefly sketches earnest prescriptions for avoiding oil’s malignant influence, and the viability of certain alternative-energy sources.
Skimpy final chapter aside, an absorbing, relentlessly discouraging account of the disastrous effect of oil wealth on nearly everyone.