At last, the truly needy have surfaced. It is not the hungry, about whom the evidence is only anectodal. It is the domestic oil industry, which is hurting plenty. In the name of national security, it is singing a version of the old Sophie Tucker torch song: "One of these days, you're gonna miss me, baby."
It is a Washington truism that whenever anyone cites national security it is time to reach for your wallet. National security is at stake when some congressman cries about the closing of a military base in his district or the loss of a contract to a firm that -- what a coincidence! -- happens to be in his district. It is the same sort of coincidence that compels two Texans, Gov. Mark White and Vice President George Bush, to take the long view when it comes to oil: It is better to pay a little bit more now to ensure that you have oil when you need it. National security says so.
In truth, there is something to this. But just as surely as oil is down, it will someday go up. This has been the pattern ever since the commodity's American discovery in Titusville, Pa. A year after the first well was brought in, the barrel price was $20; a year later it was 10 cents. It took only a short time for the oil industry to learn that the only way to make money was to control production. John D. Rockefeller pioneered in the manipulation of the market. The Texas Railroad Commission, the Seven Sisters and OPEC merely followed. It is only a matter of time until it is again restricted.
In the meantime, though, the real loser is not national security or some entity called the oil industry. In a scale based upon need, it is not even the independents or their investors -- and certainly not the major producers or distributors. Instead, it is the people who are out of work -- the many thousands of them in the industry itself and all the rest who rely on the industry in one way or another. They hardly get mentioned. In fact, you would think the Texas unemployment rate of 8.4 percent was made up of nothing but capped wells. On TV, White acted as if to mention people would be an insult to Texas' spirit.
Nonsense. Once again, the administration's refusal to have even a semblance of an industrial policy is ruining the lives of thousands, maybe millions, of people. Workers who had lost their jobs in the mills of the North were told to stop crying, enlist in the army of the Protestant Ethic, and march to the Sun Belt. That's where there were jobs aplenty -- a cornucopia of entrepreneurial opportunity. Now some of the same people who went South to work are out of work. Time to hit the road again.
These are the invisible people of the current oil crisis or boom -- depending, of course, on how you look at it. They almost never get mentioned, and the plea for either higher prices or an import fee is almost never made in their name. Conservative dogma has so permeated the American fabric that it is considered just plain dreamy to say that people are being hurt and lives ruined. For that you get dismissed as some sort of dreamer -- a central planner, a socialist or, worst of all, a liberal.
I can't tell you what the proper course for the government should be -- whether it should intervene or allow the market to work its (black?) magic. I do know, though, that out in oil country, which is usually also cattle and farming country, a depression has settled over the land. George Bush and Mark White notwithstanding, it is not national security that is suffering, but the people who live there. No one has put a cap on their pain.