Overstating the Impact of the Oil Embargo of 1973-1974
Joel Beinin, in the course of a review of Niall Ferguson's book, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (New York: Penguin Press, 2004); in Middle East Report Online (July 2004):
Ferguson greatly exaggerates the direct consequences of the brief and highly permeable Arab oil embargo of October 1973 to March 1974. The oil shortage and price spike of the mid-1970s were not primarily due to a shortage of crude in the market. The embargo never reduced the flow of oil by more than 15 percent; it was loosely enforced; and it lasted only a few months. Much more significant in the long run was the lack of sufficient refining capacity in the United States as a result of inadequate capital investment by American-based corporations. The price spike had more significant effects. But its main victims were Third World countries that do not produce oil. They could generally not compensate for the increased cost of fuel because US and European agricultural price supports kept prices for agricultural goods artificially low. Moreover, the price spike enhanced the profits of the major multinational petroleum companies even more than the revenues of the oil-producing states.
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