Michael Barone

Each of these men could have paused at some point in their careers and retired with enough wealth to live in luxury, contribute generously to others and leave large inheritances behind.

Instead, they soared ahead, taking enormous risks, borrowing enormous sums. I suspect that most readers will feel queasy, as I did, reading of the enormous debt they carried at times and the breathtaking chances they took.

Nor did everything work out well for them. In 2012, McClendon and Ward were both forced out of the firms they headed because of their insatiable desire to buy ever more mineral leases. Hamm faces loss of half his net worth in divorce.

The fracking revolution has had the effect of not only swelling the domestic supply, but also of slashing the domestic price. Bad news for McClendon and Ward, but good news for Souki, who is retrofitting his terminal to export, rather than import, liquefied natural gas.

The Frackers reminds me of the enormous risks taken by John D. Rockefeller, whose kerosene replaced whale oil for lighting (and saved those wondrous mammals from slaughter), and the auto pioneers of Detroit.

It reminds me also that some -- but not all -- of them reaped great rewards. Henry Ford became a billionaire. W.C. Durant, founder of General Motors, died broke.

Public policymakers tend to assume a static economic world that responds incrementally to incentives, including changes in policy.

The Frackers shows an explosive and highly unpredictable world where imagination, perseverance, skill and -- a necessary ingredient -- luck can transform a nation from whale oil to kerosene, horse and buggy to car, energy importer to energy exporter.

Creative destruction can render public policies irrelevant, as seems to be the case with several decades of conventional wisdom energy policy. It reminds us that people with ingenuity and daring can reshape the world in ways few can imagine.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM