Senator Ed Markey’s argument for restricting oil exports relies on collectivism. In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal (“Don’t Annul America’s Gains on Energy Independence,” Dec. 26, 2013), Senator Markey defends “four decades of U.S. law that keep American oil here for American consumers.” Implying that they would favor foreigner at their countrymen’s expense, Markey blames “oil companies [that] want to export America’s oil to help Latin American consumers and increase China’s energy security.” He concludes by saying, “Let’s keep America’s oil here for our consumers and tell oil companies we’re not falling for their newest trick” (emphases added).
Whose oil is that, Senator? Does the whole country own it? Are we Russia? Venezuela?
No. In the United States, oil is the property of the particular companies that have invested in discovering it, drilling for it, purchasing leases on the land above it, and pumping it out of the ground. That oil is private property. What Senator Markey is advocating is that the US government (continue to) violate the private property rights of American companies, denying them the freedom to sell their property to whomever they choose. Markey is the one being tricky here.
Senator Markey’s economics is as wrong-headed as his political philosophy. American energy independence would be best promoted by letting American oil producers increase their output capacity through selling to as large a market as possible. And the economic well-being of American consumers—like that of every other nation’s consumers—depends on the overall efficiency of the world economy. It depends on having resources of all kinds flow to where they are most highly valued, as indicated by free market prices.