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- Publié sur Amazon.com
The peak oil hypothesis may be very real; at the very least, as the author notes, large deposits of easily accessible oil will become harder to find, concurrent with increasing demand from China, India and other parts of the (rapidly) developing world; the combination will clearly lead to higher prices of oil, and therefore gasoline. The format is a novel one: how would life change with each relatively sizeable incremental increase in the average price of fuel at the pump. I'm guessing that the book concept was approved in 1H 2008, and the drop in In the market price of oil (and gasoline) by year end made the release timing somewhat awkward; ah well, the market giveth and the market taketh away.
In the hands of a more objective and rigorous writer, this could have been a very useful book; even as it stands, it provides some interesting insights (or at least stimulates thinking). Unfortunately, there are a few flaws that made me regularly roll my eyes, and ultimately discount the book's value:
First, for the sake of dramatic impact, the author assumes that the price of gasoline will increase in a matter of months to his initial target range - he's found an equity analyst or university professor who says that gas will reach $10 in the next year or two; he ignores the dozens of others who would disagree (a recurring theme), and even that one probably wishes he could take back his mid-08 quote 6 months later. While oil (and gas) prices are set at the margin and therefore volatile, this is likely to be a years- or decades-long process.
Second, the cure for high prices, as the saying goes, is high prices. The author gives little credit to human ingenuity and willingness to change consumption patterns. He notes that diesel use will go up, and that electric car use will come into vogue, but discounts the impact of those (and numerous other) initiatives on the ability to continue to drive, i.e. substitution effects. If gas prices really do ratchet as high as $6 in the next couple of years, the vehicle fleet will shift fairly rapidly in composition. As the author notes, Ford already sells 60-70 mpg vehicles in Europe (as do other automakers), and the only thing keeping those away from our shores is market demand. People aren't stupid, they'll adjust. By the time gas reaches $20/gallon, if it ever does, many adjustments will be made without completely changing the American lifestyle. The author repeatedly says that people won't buy electric cars in any numbers at $25k and above. I'm guessing that he's a) an urban dweller, and b) not all that well paid as a scribe at Forbes, and therefore c) hasn't shopped for a car in a while - what does he think the average car costs today?
Similarly, US consumers can weather higher gas prices much more easily than the new consumers in India and China due to income. If prices rise as much as he expects, demand will drop considerably in those emerging markets. The Chinese and Indian economies have lived without cars for a long time; the growth in demand in those countries will flatten or reverse fairly quickly if the author's scenario(s) prove out, reducing the price (or at least the pace of price increases) to US and European consumers.
Third, the book is largely anecdotal rather than analytical. It makes it an easy and engaging read, but doesn't do much to make the author's case. Remind me again why WalMart will be eliminated at $14 (or was it $12) but not at $8 or $16? He had a number of points to make, and seemingly spread them among random chapters.
Finally, there's an overriding sense of self-righteous, vindictive contempt for the way Americans choose to live their lives today that comes through consistently (especially in the chapter on the "Death of WalMart"). The author believes we should all live in walkable, mixed use urban centers or main-street focused small towns; he yearns for an idyllic past that never existed, and which suburbanites and exurbanites left because they wanted to. I hate to throw out the overused cliche "urban elites", but he's pretty clearly a member, and he can barely disguise his glee that the suburbs and big box stores he despises will be eliminated in a cleansing fire of high gasoline prices. The standard suburban American lifestyle that he hates so much, along with the globalization that makes it possible, are likely to prove more resilient than the author thinks. Sorry, WalMart (and Costco) aren't going away. Deal with it.
In summary, if this really were an objective scenario review it would be much more valuable than it is. As it stands, it's an ideological polemic screed that gives more insight into the author's belief system than it does into possible future outcomes. Too bad, the idea had some potential.