Oil’s Well That Ends Well

A few thousand years ago, God and the Devil were winding down after a day of hard negotiation on the Heaven and Hell Entrance Criteria Steering and Coordination Committee….

Devil: You really need to tell St. Peter to loosen up. He keeps turning away people and sending them to me for the pettiest little wrongs they have committed. I mean, coveting your neighbour’s ox? Or your neighbour’s wife, or your neighbour’s slave? Who has not coveted one of those three at some point in time? Everybody is going to do a little coveting here and there. You should be a bit more forgiving of the coveting. I do well enough with murder and avarice and fornication – another record year for fornication, by the way – so I have no need for all these borderline sinners Peter keeps sending my way. Hey, don’t get me wrong, business is booming and I love the way my annual figures keep coming in way ahead of forecast, but finding an apartment in downtown Hell is really getting beyond a joke. Things are getting so bad one that my zoning commission has decided to thaw all the ice in zone 4 to make room for new people. We are going to move all the traitors we froze there into a new out-of-town cryogenic storage plant. Projections are that it will cost half as much to administer, and allow us to inflict 30% more pain and suffering on its incumbents. But we got some tough deadlines to meet if we are going to make room for all the newcomers. I told those demons I got managing the project that if they don’t deliver on time I will bring them back to Earth and make them work on a really miserable job, like digging the Suez Canal or opening Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

God: Don’t tell anyone I said this, but you are right. The heavenly property market is stagnant, and it does trouble me that everybody who gets my name wrong is sent down to you automatically. That hardly gives me a fighting chance, does it? Last time I looked you were a clear billion ahead of me in the soul count and the gap keeps widening. But don’t worry, I have some radical plans to turn things around. Coveting slaves is going to be fixed for sure, because I got this guy called Lincoln and he is going to free them all in a little while, so there’ll be no more coveting of them. Coveting wives will be a bit trickier, but we are thinking that maybe we can cook up a women’s lib movement and encourage the wives to covet other husbands, thus realizing some kind of equality before the law and reducing the need for our intervention. Finally, we got a real great plan for what to do with the coveting of the oxen…

Devil: Tell me, tell me…

God: You’re gonna love this. Instead of having people pulling carts and ploughs and what not with the oxen, I have just last week put some real energy-intensive black stuff in the ground. In a while they will dig it up, and starting burning it as a fuel source for all sorts of uses like power generation and motor vehicles.

Devil: But doesn’t that just mean that people will stop coveting cattle, and will instead covet their neighbour’s new Mercedes instead?

God: Sure! But it doesn’t say anything about coveting automobiles in the Bible, does it? And everyone knows the Bible is meant to be read literally, so we’ll be off the hook.

Devil: Heh, heh… and they call me a cheater who cannot be trusted! heh, heh.

God: And the best part is that they are going to call it fossil fuel because some damn idiot scientists are going to make out that it was made from decomposing organic matter. Only the true believers will suspect it was really a last-minute change of plans by me!

Devil: But, hey, if you do that, what is gonna happen when this black stuff…

God: …we’re gonna call it oil

Devil: …. when this oil runs out? Won’t they all get really dependent on it and then start coveting it and fighting for it, and complaining when it gets more expensive as it reaches the end? Sounds like more business for me in the long run!

God: Sure, I got that covered. I am all-knowing, after all.

Devil: I forgot.

God: That’s because you’re not all knowing [chuckles at his own joke]. But seriously, take a look at this story about rising oil prices from the year 2008 A.D.

Devil: A.D.? What’s that?

God: …erm… don’t worry about that now… it’s basically gonna be like a big birthday for some carpenter guy… erm…

Devil: Okay, that sounds dull. Get back to the story about the misery caused by these rising oil prices…

God: Well, like the horns on your head, here’s the point. A lot of people are going to burn a lot of oil, and then it will start running out and when it does, more and more people will be wanting more and more of it. So the price is going to go up and up. So a lot of fat and lazy people in one part of the world are going to have to change their ways sooner or later, plus they will be messing up the atmosphere and the climate, so they had better change their ways before it is too late.

Devil: Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Wars, greed, environmental disaster… all the stuff I like, heh, heh.

God: Yup, they’ll be some of that. But on the other hand, rising oil prices are going to do some things that nobody – no politician, no environmentalist, no celebrity – in short none of all those happy-clappy self-righteous back-patting self-congratulating would-be self-appointed so-called leaders have the balls to do.

Devil: What’s that, oh omnipotent one?

God: Rationing. The price will go up, and some people will not afford the oil, and then they will have to put some time and money and effort into solving their problems another way. Like walking from one place to another. Or making the kids walk to school. Or staying at home because their journey is pointless anyway. Or staying at home instead of spending the day in a traffic jam. Or working from home. Or having a holiday in their own country instead of going half way round the world in order to destroy the local culture and step all over some ancient ruins until they have been turned into dust. Or switch off the lights after themselves. Or eating seasonal food grown locally instead of flying it from the other side of the world.

Devil: Heck, that sounds like a risky plan. Are you sure you know everything? Won’t they just fight and squabble and complain and ask for tax breaks and ignore the inevitability of it all and leave it too late and change the world’s climate anyhow and fight wars to get oil from other countries when the oil in their country is all used and find even more dangerous and deadly ways to ruin the earth like creating power stations that make radioactive waste and would kill thousands of people if ever there was an accident and there will be an accident ‘cos they are arrogant about these kinds of things thus making it inevitable?

God: Maybe so. But at least it will not matter any more if politicians do silly things like reducing road-building and reducing parking spaces but not curbing population growth, and not reducing the need for people to travel, and not really doing very much to ensure houses are near where people work or that public transport is adequate to really meet the needs of the growing economy because they are all too scared to do anything that will make them less popular. Even when they do something, they do the wrong thing, like arguing that road-building is pointless because as soon as you build a new road it gets filled up with cars. That is the same as arguing that roads are the cause of why people drive cars. They might as well argue that building a reservoir causes rain or building a prison causes crime. In the end, the politicians will make such a mess of things that you’ll have a lot of people stuck on too few roads, burning oil and going nowhere – what a waste! But the simple – and unpopular – answer is that much more expensive oil will make it too costly for people to sit in traffic jams, which means the fewer people left on the roads will actually be able to use them, meaning less waste all round. The truth is that this bounty of oil will first help a lot of rich people have a good life, and then later on the rich people will not want to give up that good life as a lot of poorer people start getting rich and want the good life also. As these poorer people get richer, the price of oil will have to go up because demand will grow whilst supply will reach a limit and then start to fall. How unchristian of the rich people to want all the oil for themselves! Too many cars and too few roads just means that people want to drive their cars no matter what, and they like to drive their cars and can afford to drive their cars and will even sit in traffic jams for hours rather than give up driving their cars. So the only way to stop them will be to make it so blasted expensive to buy the oil that some of them will have to change the way they live. And then the people will only use the oil if they can afford it and have a really good reason to drive their cars (I’m thinking here about people who need to drive for work or need to get to the hospital and not people who drive their kids to tennis lessons or people going to buy fancy shoes from an outlet store on the outside of town). And they will have much less traffic in the way. Which also means they will use less oil and cause less pollution as they do so.

Devil: Are you trying to say that the free market is a good thing, and rising prices caused by demand outstripping supply just means that people will stop doing bad things, start doing good things, stop taking the oil for granted and starting being more careful about the impact they have on the world you made for them? That sounds like rather a laissez-faire, non-interventionist attitude to being the Supreme Being.

God: Exactly. It’s all part of the big plan. Market economics will achieve something that none of those loud-mouthed big-shots worried about their popularity ratings will be able to do – make a tough decision about who gets to use a valuable and irreplaceable resource.

Devil: But that will only fix the mess you made by putting the oil there in the first place. So why not just stick with the oxen pulling the carts and leave it at that?

God: Erm…. I can’t tell you all the answers, now can I???


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