Saudis Spend $55 of Every Barrel of Oil to Provide Welfare

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And one final thoughtful note… from Joel Bowman, reporting from the Persian Gulf, on what happens to all those fat profits made by oil exporters… and how costs always rise to fill the space available to them… and why whenever a nation discovers that it has an unearned advantage, it quickly finds a way to disadvantage itself:

“A friend who visited Dubai recently remarked to me that the emirate seemed to have one foot in the 13th century and the other in the 21st. His wife was shocked to learn that the political structure of the Emirates is basically akin to a feudal society; Sheikhs at the top, appointed by birthright, and imported, increasingly disgruntled, serfs laboring away at the bottom. A benevolent dictator is a marvelous thing… until things turn bad, i.e., the oil stops a flowin’.

“I found it interesting to note that the Saudis, perhaps the most expansive central planners in terms of intervening in individual’s lives, now spend $55 of every barrel of oil sold just to provide welfare for their citizens. This is a country with the largest reserves of the hottest export around and it requires a price seen less than two years ago just to balance the books! The only thing outpacing the rise in crude price, it would seem, is the over-reaching arm of the planners.

“(Venezuela, according to a report someone forwarded me recently, needs an astonishing $97 per barrel of oil to meet Hugo’s financial obligations… Iran and Nigeria require something like $75… not that I think it’s going back to these prices, but the margin between profit and just covering their expanding welfare buttocks is getting rather thin.)

“There is a region-wide nanny state syndrome that, in my opinion, will eat into every last drop of oil revenue long before the final well is exhausted… that’s if the SWFs don’t blow it all by ‘bailing out’ all the west’s financial institutions in the process – a practice that has seen the loss of billions for the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Mubadala and other, centrally planned and controlled funds.

“Back to the point though. Assuming that humans will remain a constant in any centrally planned equation, governments come up with hair-brained schemes to promote the interests of ‘a class’ or ‘a culture’ rather than let the individual fellow sink or swim for himself. This almost never works. History is full of examples. Here’s just one from my neck of the woods.

“The GCC determines that employment of nationals is of utmost importance, regardless of talent, merit or resume. (I can only surmise that this is motivated by cultural pride, as any company would surely want to hire the vast array of talented Indian IT gurus, for instance, before they settled for an Emirati who waltzed in around 11am and clocked out at 2 after an hour and a half lunch.) So, the central planners go to work…

“Qatar just announced a 20% ‘Qatarization’ (not to be confused with ‘racism’) initiative to be implemented by March 31 2009. That means every company must [hire] one Qatari for every four non-citizens on their books… or lay off a bunch of ‘imports.’ The Emirates and Bahrain are employing similar tactics as are Kuwait and Saudi.

“One may find themselves sympathetic to the cause of preserving the culture of a particular region… or not… but the fact is, making it illegal for companies to operate an employment system based on meritocracy will cripple them, particularly the smaller businesses.

“There’s obviously much more to it, but you get my drift.

“So, to hell with good intentions. You don’t count your investment returns until point of liquidation. And woe to the man who ever said, ‘Well, I intended to make a big fat profit… that’s what I had planned on.'”

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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Comments

  1. The only reason the Middle East is still living in the middle ages is because of their old revenues. Without the oil, their governments would have crumbled long ago under financial strain.

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  2. not to sound too “anti-capitalist”, which i am in the sense that the limits to ‘free market’ expansion are environmental limitations to human exploitation and greed.

    on the other hand, our free choice laws that our universe is based on requires free trade and sound/honest money, private banks (public goal for the crook)

    societies go to war to take “their fair share” of resources, when in fact it’s not ours to take in the first place. shouldn’t we ponder the source and whence it came and it’s replenishment.

    there’s no shortage of resources, just an over supply of greed and stupidity. put the best politicians money can buy, together with the best hired brains, add in the spoiled and the rich, and you have a formula for self anihilation.

    figure in the debts from a proper perspective and wall street needs about $ 20,000 a barrel to start paying it’s back taxes.

    do we need to mention the miles of toxic garbage, the spewing factory wastes, the polluted water, the polluted air, the polluted land.

    the polluted minds, the polluted children, the dying insects, the vanishing species.

    but, no! the great thinkers and leaders of self-deception and tomfoolery, have nothing to offer but good opinions of each other. an egregrious appetite for food and wine, and fiat paper money.

    what is missing are the obvious facts. work and love are the wellsprings of reality and should also govern it.

    so if the BIG MEN in charge can’t pay their bills, can we expect that their ideas and plans for the future to be anything but a sandcastle in the sky. not a boom and a bust, but just a whimper of choking industrial dust. a flacid delusion of industrial might. an impotent attempt at omnipotence. a scab on the backside of mother earth. a mite to be squash by the forces of nature and eternity.

    choice is individual. the individual chooses what is right. the strength of a state is it’s integretiy and design. it’s mind is the backbone, not the fast fist.

    ignornance is strength, freedom is slavery, black is white.

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  3. Just curious as to where these $55 per barrel for Saudi etc figures came from?

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  4. Interesting that you jump to the conclusion that hiring citizens instead of foreigners means one cannot hire by merit. Isn’t it the same as not having (or in this case merely reducing) a guest-worker program? You can still hire based on merit, just the available pool of potential employees does not include folks from outside the country.

    When you look at most guest-worker programs, they seem far less about “merit” than about lowering wages. When I was working my way through college in the 70’s I remember being jealous of male classmates who could earn much higher wages doing construction work in the summers. Now that much of that work is done by (often illegal) Mexican immigrants, those are no longer a high-wage jobs; possibly not even living-wage jobs.

    One has the suspicion that despite all the rhetoric about “merit” it really boils down to getting more docile (because more powerless) workers who will accept lower pay. On the other hand, all the examples that come to mind about hiring “the best” involve higher, not lower, pay: star football players enticed to switch teams, a company hiring away a competitor’s best salesperson, etc.

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  5. K.Majid: If you manipulate the free market, by constraining it, it is no longer free.
    Without taking into consideration the fact that most locals are probably of merit, this forced system gives a strong competitive advantage to local employees, such that it can be abused.

    Imagine if you will, an entire populace of lazy people, with no merit. Imagine if all companies had to have 20% of these lazy, meritless people on their employee rolls, at award wages. Now also imagine how this would affect their business.
    On the other hand, the entire populace could be highly energetic, highly merit worthy people. Now consider then, why such a law would need to be put into place, if this was the case? The only reason would be that the award wages are too high for the companies to sustain.

    I do not wish to offend in any way with my comments.

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  6. Pete, isn’t deliberately importing people from abroad with few or no rights to compete w. the locals manipulating the “free” market? If the imports can’t vote, organize into unions, etc., how is this a “free market”?
    As for your last point, companies fire energetic, highly merit worthy people all the time when there is a cheaper alternative. Thus many middle-class jobs are being outsourced to other countries where wages and cost-of-living are lower. However, these same companies were perfectly capable of sustaining local wages before the technologies were invented that make outsourcing possible.

    The net result is to artificially cheapen certain types of work in relation to the society consuming the production of that work. Talk about manipulation!

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  7. if oil goes to a prolonged 50 a barrel, that will bankrupt the saudis……riots and looting would ensue with joblessness and no mone for welfare….. the saudis would then dump their us dollar sthey have accumulated to meet the peoples need and quell the rioting….. the dollar crashes and then the us gets rioting and looting, martial law, disarming the populous, then a perfect oportunity for russia and chine to open up a JV can of whoop ass, quite possibly WWIII, with us military stretched so thin….

    US battle plan?? Bomb Iran to keep oil up to keep saudis from dumping the dollar….hmmmm

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