Ken Connor

I'm going green! Not because I'm a tree-hugger, nor because I have embraced some form of pantheistic environmentalism. Rather, it's because I'm concerned about promoting freedom and protecting family.

Recently, I read Thomas Friedman's book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman is a passionate advocate for the development of renewable energy resources to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. His reasoning, however, may surprise you. It turns out, this New York Times columnist isn't only concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuels on planet earth; he is also concerned about the impact that oil revenues have on freedom abroad and security at home. Both are impacted by the amount of oil revenues that flow into what Friedman calls "petrolist states."

Friedman defines petrolist states as "authoritarian states... that are highly dependent on oil production" and which, in most cases, "accumulated their oil wealth before they established sound and transparent institutions of governance." Iran, Russia, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia are on the list. The governments in these states are able to exist and enforce their dictatorial rule through the money they get from selling their oil abroad. And it's a lot of money. The income of OPEC members rose from $110 billion in 1998 to over $535 billion in 2007 for about the same amount of oil. Petro-dictators thrive when oil revenues are high. They wither when oil revenues are low.

One of the more interesting hypotheses in Friedman's book is his argument that oil prices and freedom have an inverse relationship in petrolist states. Comparing state freedom rankings from Freedom House with the price of oil over the past few decades, Friedman points to a general trend: rising oil prices provide more money and power to the ruling class and, consequently, reduce freedom among the general populace. Notwithstanding President George W. Bush's efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, his efforts were thwarted because America (and her allies) continued to pay petro-dictators top dollar for their oil.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.