This paradise in the Pacific is as beautiful as ever -- the sunsets have no equal -- but the hotels and merchants are singing the blues. Tourism, the islands' mainstay, is suffering in large part because of the soaring cost of air travel.
The airlines, now paying $1 a gallon for jet fuel that cost about 65 cents last year and a mere 15 cents a gallon four years ago, have cut the number of their flights from the mainland.
The airline industry calcaltes that each one penny increase in the cost of jet fuel costs them $115 million annually on a worldwide basis.
This is but one grim reminder of the toll that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has exacted from the oil-consuming nations.
The newly published annual report of the International Monetary Fund estimates that the world's economic growth will be limited to a bare 1 percent this year and next, as nations big and small struggle to pay their oil bills.
This is all happening at a time when there is a cerified oil "glut" which -- by an but topsy-turvy economics -- should force a substantial reduction in oil prices.
But in the sick world in which we live, oil prices are set by OPEC, with the meek acquiescence of the oil consumers. At a symposium here, John J. Lichtblau of the Petroleum Research Foundation said he didn't think the oversupply would result in any significant price reduction.
AS A MATTER of fact, at OPEC's meeting in Vienna next week, the indications are that Saudi Arabia, the No. 1 producer , will meet the glut problem by announcing a reduction in its daily output from 9.5 million to 8.5 million barrels a day, coincident with an increase in its price from $28 to $32 per barrel to "unify" the OPEC price structure.
For "unify," just read it: Prevent the price from coming down because of oversuppply conditions in world markets. And when OPEC prices go up, the prices and profits of the oil companies move in tandem.
Walter W. Heller, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told the symposium that in the second quarter of this year, while the rest of American industry was experiencing a 20 percent decline in profits, the oil industry was enjoying an increasing of about one-third.
The oil industry now accounts for 30 percent of all American corporate profits, while in 1972 the oil industry share was only 18 percent, Heller said.
"I worry about too much of our economic substance -- much too much --, and being drawn into the oil industry, and in a sense, reducing the amount of investment available for the rest of the economy," Heller said.
The oil industry usually bellows that it is a cheap shot to emphasize its profits, arguing that their profits are comparable with those of other major industries.
Lichtblau, when asked about Heller's concern about concentration of wealth in the oil industry (oil company payout in dividends is far below the U.S. industry average), suggested that the windfall profits tax would dilute the gravey a bit next year.
NONETHELESS, Lichtablau -- a respected analyst who does, of course, have ties to the industry -- conceded that as OPEC prices move steadily higher in real terms over the coming decade, oil company profits will continue their march upward.
That should be good news for oil company stockholders. And who am I to argue that profits are not as American as ice cream, apple pie and (until recently) Chevrolet?
But there is something cockeyed with an economic and political system in which a small number of nations controlling a key resource can drag the rest of the world into economic crisis, white they and the network of marketing companies get fatter and fatter.
Give it time, the energy experts say, and as oil hits $35 or $40 a barrel, all sorts of alternative energy sources will become economically feasbile. But in 1972, when oil cost $2 a barrel or less and OPEC started all the trouble, $8 was going to be the magic price. Milton Friedman promised that the cartel itself couldn't last.
Well, here we are at $32 a barrel, suffering a glut, OPEC is in command, and prices are still going up. More flights into Honolulu International Airport are canceled, more poor countries slip into greater debt. One wonders when the patience of the oil-consuming world will finally be exhausted. w