Thinking Lincoln: parallels between slavery & cheap energy

February 12, 2009

Hearing Lincoln’s speeches today made me realize how much of President 44’s retoric is an homage to 16’s.  That thought led me to a jaw dropping comparison between the cheap labor aspect of slavery and our current addiction to cheap energy.

I’m not a historian, but I remember reading that in Lincoln’s time, the civil war was fought for mainly economic reasons.  The Southern states believed that an end to their cheap energy source (slaves) would end their way of life.  The economy of the North had already adopted to alternative labor (energy) sources.  The eye of history rightly highlights the principles and freedoms won in the war – the North’s success without slavery created economic capability to eradicate it (in the US, at least).

I see incredible parallels between our current transistion between cheap energy and the Civil war transistion.  We’ve got a tremendous part of the population that clings to an unsustainable consumption model that is both economically and morally flawed.  Eventually, a new energy model must emerge; however, the social turbulence may be equally violent!

This analysis leads to the question – what are the two sides in this battle?  I’m not certain, but I can make some guesses:

  1. US vs. China -> our trade imbalance was a first battle
  2. Oil Producers vs. Oil Consumers -> another Iraq anyone?
  3. Civil Discord (class war) -> foreclosed home owners picking bank CEOs?  It’s happening.
  4. 2nd World vs 1st World -> Terrorist attacks?  Mexico immigration crime waves?  A flood of cheap drugs from South America?

Is there a solution?  Maybe and it’s not a massive stimulous package.  We need to put aggressive incentives (and disincentives) in place that will alter Americans energy signature.  In my neighborhood, people are finding money to buy high MPG Hondas and Toyotas.

We’ve got enough cash to make practical investments that hedge our bets for the future.  I suspect that there are many more people who would spend money to make sound forward looking economic choices.  Houses, cars, and TVs are not selling because no one knows what type to buy!  If President Obama can provide that type of direction, we’ll get on the right course and (maybe) avoid another resources war.

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