You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Oil As The New Salt?

I'm here at Plug-in Vehicles 2008 conference, sponsored by the Brookings Institution and, which features a whole bunch of cool-looking plug-in hybrids and a roster of big-name speakers discussing the promises and challenges involved in transitioning from a gasoline-based to an electricity-based auto industry. Up first was Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA and current advisor to the McCain campaign, who delivered an impassioned plea for energy independence. He termed America's current energy policy "just about the single stupidest thing that modern society could possibly do," mostly becuase of its tendency to strengthen autocratic regimes.

Woolsey offered an interesting analogy: He noted that until the end of the nineteenth century, when it was the only available means of preserving meat, salt was such a valuable commodity that wars were fought over control of salt mines, and money flowed from salt-poor states to salt-rich states. In a hundred years, Woolsey suggested, oil might look like salt: An important commodity traded on international markets that serves certain specific purposes, but that no longer drives geopolitics or underlies an entire sector of the economy. It's a bit of a strained comparison, to be sure, but an interesting one--125 years ago, no one would have forecast the decline of salt.

Woolsey softly but unmistakably criticized the Bush administration's unwillingness to start weaning the nation off of foreign oil, and suggested that if elected McCain would take a different tack. Granted, McCain's muddled equivocation on Lieberman–Warner isn't promising, and Woolsey is far from the only voice in the McCain camp, but it's still something of a good sign.

--Josh Patashnik