Robert Rapier: Oil Dependence: Tom Friedman’s False Narrative

Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, frequently writes on the topic of energy and the environment. One persistent habit he has is to omit certain important facts from a story — facts so important that they would greatly undermine the point he is trying to make. His latest column provides a perfect example:

Pass the Books. Hold the Oil.

His premise is that Taiwan is a model for other countries to follow, because they have no natural resources, and yet have managed to be very successful by investing in their people:

Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women. I always tell my friends in Taiwan: “You’re the luckiest people in the world. How did you get so lucky? You have no oil, no iron ore, no forests, no diamonds, no gold, just a few small deposits of coal and natural gas — and because of that you developed the habits and culture of honing your people’s skills, which turns out to be the most valuable and only truly renewable resource in the world today.

Count me among those who strongly believe in educated citizens. Unfortunately, Friedman’s essay does not advance that cause, but rather misleads by omitting some very important facts. The thrust of his argument is that Taiwan did not need natural resources to become so successful. Unfortunately, what Friedman omits is that Taiwan IS heavily dependent upon natural resources, they just get them from other countries.

Taiwan’s 2010 oil consumption was just over 1 million barrels per day for a country of 23 million people. Thus, per capita consumption of oil in Taiwan is just over 16 barrels per person per year. That is more than 6 times mainland China’s 2.5 barrels per person per year, and 60% higher than the EU’s 10.1 barrels per person per year. On the other hand their consumption is lower than the 22.7 barrels per person the U.S. used in 2010. (For both the U.S. and Taiwan, some of the oil that is imported is then exported as finished products; however both countries are highly dependent upon foreign oil).

Per capita imports tell an even more interesting story. Taiwan imports 13.9 barrels of oil per person per year. The U.S. imports 12.2 barrels per person per year. So Taiwan is even more dependent upon foreign oil than is the U.S., yet Mr. Friedman’s essay gives readers exactly the opposite impression.

Energy Tribune

One response to “Robert Rapier: Oil Dependence: Tom Friedman’s False Narrative

  1. When was the last time the truth was found in the NYT?

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