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Challenges of the Muslim World: Oil, Testosterone and War

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

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."

However, demographic change and economic development (or lack of it) impact "world peace and prosperity." We move to sex -- growing populations and the deadly "bifurcation" between the modern and the Muslim world: "The Muslim world seems unable to improve the standard of living for the majority of its populations even with the enormous wealth generated by precious energy resources."

More mouths to feed and more minds to educate are developmental pressures, but Cooper and Yue also analyze in detail the "troublesome cohort of male youngsters in ages from 15 to 29," arguing this helps "understand why some populations behave more violently or manifest disturbances in certain time periods."

Unemployed young men are easy prey for autocrats and theocrats using "historical grievances" (several 800 years old) to deflect blame for current circumstances. Cooper and Yue, after considering history and ideology in light of "demographic transformations and economic interconnections" conclude "the Muslim world is now at a critical inflection point," where it can either "join global communities for peace and prosperity" or "continue fighting" with itself and the rest of the world as its demographic and economic problems mount.

Put this book at the top of Barack Obama and John McCain's summer reading list.

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