Austin Bay

Oil and unemployed testosterone don't mix, they collide -- with war the likely result.

"Economics and demographics" lack the sizzle of oil and testosterone, which as eye-grabbers are an Oprah-notch below money and sex. But in the grand sense of geo-strategy and the intricate 21st century problems that produce wars, poverty and other forms of sustained misery, economics and demographics are the fire.

Anyone looking for instant soundbites won't find them in William Cooper and Piyu Yue's "Challenges of the Muslim World, Present, Future, and Past" (Elsevier, 2008). Cooper is an economist at the University of Texas. A spry 94 years old, he's comfortable with detailed history as well as voluminous data. Yue works at the University of Texas' IC2 Institute.

The book is not a political polemic -- it is penetrating scholarship addressing persistent, fundamental structural issues that defy polemics. It analyzes problems that disregard America's four-year presidential election cycle and utterly defy the power of any theoretical popular two-term president whose party enjoys overwhelming congressional majorities.

Caesar divided Gaul into three parts. Cooper and Yue divide the Muslim world's challenges into three categories: oil, testosterone and war. OK, I'm synthesizing. The authors' three are: Consumption, Production and Location of Oil and Natural Gas; Demographic Changes and Social Instability; and History and the Contemporary Scene.

The authors have the communicator's knack many statisticians lack -- the ability to produce charts and figures that turn complex data bits and algorithmic contortions into dynamic pictures that explain. One such chart explains why gasoline prices in the United States have climbed roughly 70 percent since Cooper created the "World Energy Consumption by Economies, 1970-2025" in 2006.

The chart is "oil agnostic" -- it considers energy demands in quadrillion BTUs. In 1970, the world required 300 quadrillion BTUs; make it 645 quadrillion for 2025. The percentage consumed by "mature economies" (like the United States) declines from 65 percent to 42 percent. "Emerging economies" (China) rise from 16 percent to 46 percent. If the numbers boggle, slap your wallet and examine them again.

No matter how much energy any nation conserves, no matter how quickly anyone develops alternative energy sources, the data shows oil and natural gas will power the world economy through the first half of the century (and probably beyond).

The predominantly Muslim Middle East's vast oil reserves mean what happens in these Muslim lands matters and will continue to matter. The authors write, "A peaceful and stable Muslim world is key to stable and growing oil markets."

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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