To drill or not to drill?

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous oil prices or by drilling end them … of course, it’s nowhere near as simple as that.

First, there’s the unfortunate fact that oil prices are global and drilling in Alaska wouldn’t do much to affect the worldwide market for oil. As I’ve argued before, in spite of the occasionally successful OPEC hikes in prices, no cartel can keep prices artificially low for long. There is simply too much incentive for a partner in the cartel to jump ship and make those big profits for a short while.

But second, there is the larger problem: the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve is public. As William L. Anderson of the Ludwig von Mises Institute writes:

Thus, we are left with the reality that the political process — which amounts to power by the group that either shouts the loudest or has the most votes in Congress (or both) — will decide whether or not consumers will be able to use the oil located under the Arctic tundra. For all sorts of reasons, people should be alarmed that an important question like this is decided, not by individual buyers and sellers in the marketplace, but rather by what amounts to mob rule.

The only way to determine the true value of the land and whether it should be drilled is to sell it to private groups. With market-oriented regulations encouraging them to value the wildlife against the possible profits of oil, only a private group — responding to market signals — could best deal with the many complicated issues involved.