The Rhetorical Attractiveness of “Energy Independence”

David Henderson on energy independence:

[T]he case for being “dependent” on other countries for oil is the same as the case for being dependent on other countries for bananas or coffee. At some tariff-protected price, the United States could be self-sufficient in bananas or coffee. If the price were high enough, someone would grow bananas and coffee plants in greenhouses. But why would we want that? Why would we want to pay more for coffee and bananas than we need to? Another way of saying that we would pay more is that we would give up more of our resources (capital, labor, and land) to have domestic bananas and coffee than we now give up by producing other things with these resources and using the proceeds to buy coffee and bananas more cheaply abroad. We would be poorer. The reasoning doesn’t change when the good is oil. By preventing people from importing oil, either with a ban on imports or a tariff on oil, the government would make us poorer.


  1. Hmm, “Energy Independence” is indeed a poor term, but unsurprisingly for a Hoover person, his article seems summarizable as:

    a) Energy is the same as bananas or coffee.
    Ayres+Warr, Hall, or Smil would disagree.

    b) Don’t worry about efficiency.

    c) Just keep burning those fossil fuels as *fast as possible*, and make sure there are none left for anyone’s great-grandchildren (2100), and don’t worry about investing in sustainable supplies they might use. Spending money on such things will make us poorer.

    Tough luck for the descendants who inherit a broken version of our economy dependent on cheap oil&gas that don’t exist.

    Does Henderson have any idea whatsoever that fossil fuels are a *one-time* inheritance of energy capital?

  2. self-sufficiency is a cornerstone of economic inefficiency. Or, rather, specialization is what enables a surplus, and the more specialized everyone is, the greater the potential surplus.

    Nora can probably tell you about the activity we had in Chont’s economics class. The gist of it was we had to create 3 things for survival, and on our own very few survived. But when we were able to specialize, almost all the class made it.

    So, self-sufficiency means pursuing a less efficient option for other reasons, and almost always those reasons involve national security.

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