Michael Lynch: Are Americans Addicted To Oil? Or Just Smart?

forbesForbes Energy | Thursday, December 31, 2015 | Michael Lynch

Some years ago, President George W. Bush, the putative oil man, shocked the nation by saying that America was addicted to oil. Needless to say, any number of groups echoed the charge, and I wrote a piece then, but it seems time to revisit the case, given changes in oil prices and rebounding sales for large vehicles. In the near future, as tax breaks for electric vehicles reach their limits and CAFÉ standards start to bite, there will no doubt be new howls about our addiction from those who dislike oil consumption.

The claim that we are “addicted” to oil reveals an ideological bias, as well as a degree of energy and economic illiteracy, which is frankly quite common. Those stating this are either being less than honest (politicians and special interests) or have failed to comprehend either addiction or economics.  For example, why say Americans are addicted to oil, but not food, housing and clothing?  Or cement or steel?  It is easy to compare the traditional types of addiction with the reliance on these substances to see where oil falls on the spectrum.

Addictive substances typically cause changes in brain behavior, create a sense of euphoria and a biophysical reaction that makes some develop physical cravings. People consuming these substances find themselves all but helpless to stop and will sacrifice family, career and health to their addiction.

Additionally, these substances also reduce constructive activity, making citizens less capable and/or less interested in being productive. While there are many functioning addicts, there are also huge numbers whose lives have been ruined by their addictions, one reason why some religions ban their consumption (Mormons, Southern Baptists, etc.).

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