Is the US an oil hog?

Juan Cole recites liberal meme #34: the US is an oil hog, consuming over 20% of the world’s oil, and having only 5% of the world’s population.

Is that the correct measure? No. People don’t eat or drink oil. Oil is used to produce things, so the proper measure is GDP (specifically GDP, since GNP would measure oil used in other countries by American firms).

American GDP accounts for almost one-quarter, or 25% of the world’s GDP.

America actually uses its energy resources more efficiently than the world average. So, this isn’t an argument for oil efficiency, that we’re a “hog.” It’s an argument that the rest of the world needs to become more efficient.

We may be dependent on foreign oil, but many countries are dependent on our exports.

UPDATE: The feedback I’ve gotten on this ends up turning into comment about efficiency. Well, if we all used oil more efficiently, the country with the greatest GDP would still use the most oil. Our take of 10 barrels would still probably be 2.5, just as our take from several billion is 25%.

Unless of course you think it’s ok for other countries to pollute.

And anyone who thinks that I somehow support the energy policy of this administration should know better. I just think that this oft-repeated statistic doesn’t is silly.

2 thoughts on “Is the US an oil hog?”

  1. Oil is not, generally, used to produce things in the United States. There are a few ancient oil burning electricity generators in New England and some older homes still have oil furnaces, but most of the things that America produces is done through electricity. Nationwide this is (very ballpark) 36% coal, 27% natural gas, 22% nuclear, 12% hydro, 2% oil and 1% solar etc. Oil is used to transport things and that is valuable. Indeed, it does make sense that the country with the highest GDP would use the most oil because high GDP means more people who can afford a car and afford goods and food that must be transported to them. That said, mandating fuel-efficient automotive technology that is already readily available could reduce the amount of oil America imports without affecting GDP.


  2. Maybe not directly used for producing things, but you can’t build a car at a factory in one state unless you can bring the steel there from another, and the engine computer from yet another. Or, a new road allows more highly skiller workers to live within commuting distance of the factory. A compelling study by Jeff Madrick in How Economies Grow concludes that the number one way to increase economic output is to get new products to new markets. A paradigm case of this happening is the doors opened by the interstate system. Transportation matters, and therefore oil matters to GDP just as much as if we were turning oil itself into widgets. You can see it for yourself in the way the stock market freaks out at every twitch in the price of oil.At the end of the day, we use oil more productively than the world average. That to me settles the issue of whether we’re an oil hog.It’s certainly not a brief against improving efficiency. In the $100 a barrel near-future, we simply will have to. I would also point out that a country’s GDP doesn’t necessarily correspond to its consumption–America is becoming more and more thrid-world in its inequitable distribution of wealth. All I’m saying is is that the oft-repeated meme that we are somehow sinful because we use 20% of the oil with 5% of the population is simply stupid.


Comments are closed.