Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oil: A World in Short Supply

The latest speaker in the Minerva course "Oil: A World in Short Supply" was Tariq Ali. Read a summary of his talk below!

On May 16 the writer, filmmaker, political analyst, and historian from London, Tariq Ali spoke at Union about the history of imperialism in the Middle East, how oil creates unpleasant regimes and war, The Great Transformation, and the growing economy and competition from China. His talk was entitled “The Oil Wars and World Politics”.

            Ali talked about the history of the Arab world and how European imperialism divided up the once open world into nation-states. In 1951 there was a democratic revolution in Iran; the people wanted the oil found on their land to be used to develop their country instead of England. The British crushed opposition through torture, repression, and crushing unions until all the educated people fled the country. Ali spoke about The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi; in the 1940s, the author predicted the choices that would be made in the economic world. Polanyi spoke of labor, nature, and money as fictitious commodities created by capital. One must create social states to control the elements of environmental destruction, the use of labor as a commodity, and the production of money to make more money. In today’s economy, one sees the opposite. That is, workers must put up with slave like conditions and societal advances come at the cost of humans and the environment.
Ali says that the single most important development in the 21st century is the fact that the center of the world market has shifted eastwards towards China where commodities are produced cheaply due to poor labor conditions. Cars are selling like crazy in China who is catching up to other developed nations with extraordinary use of fossil fuels. He states that America should reduce dependency on cars and create a high speed rail system like that in Europe; however, this will only change through mass demonstrations and if the citizens are willing to give up their life for the cause. Finally he talks about how Americans think that Muslims don’t want democracy when in fact they are willing to die for it.

            Tariq Ali is a highly intelligent and articulate speaker. He talked about the wars fought over oil in a way that Michael Klare did not; he looked at the bigger picture in the world and from an insider perspective as he is from Pakistan. Ali didn’t state that oil itself as a commodity was the problem; rather, the war fought over oil is the real issue. 


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