Friday, February 11, 2011

Mubarek and the motorcycle

I don't know how many times I could fill my Vino with this load of oil. But if millions of disgruntled Arabs want to rock this boat, it won't hurt motorcycle sales.
The news that Mubarek has stepped down - presumably defusing risk of a violent revolution in Egypt - resulted in a slight drop in the price of oil futures today. This after a couple of weeks in which increasing uncertainty had pushed prices higher.

But the departure of a 'strongman' military-backed dictator doesn't necessarily - or even usually -result in stability. (Remember Tito? This one, not this one...)

Where was I? I suppose the prospect of some kind of caretaker government, leading to the creation of a constitution based on democratic principles and fair elections, should be viewed with cautious optimism. If that could work anywhere in the Arab world, I guess Egypt's the place. But the prospect of a wave of popular uprisings across the region has oil traders twitching. Disruptions in oil shipments would result in price spikes, although a general level of uncertainty could engender an every-man-for-himself mentality amongst OPEC nations, weakening an already structurally unsound cartel. Prices could go up, they could fall.

Frankly, although another oil price spike would weaken our shaky 'recovery' from recession, there's some evidence (from the MIC) that high fuel prices in 2008 provided a boost for the scooter and commuter-bike market, and there's certainly some anecdotal evidence that it encouraged people who already owned motorcycles to use them instead of their cars. Those were both good things. And, since American business now has the attention span of a fruit fly, it would refocus interest and investment on the EV sector, which seems to ebb and flow with the price of gasoline.

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the New Yorker suggesting that mandating improved fleet fuel mileage or increasing the percentage of hybrid vehicles on the road will not result in reduced energy consumption. Higher prices, however, will have that effect. More motorcycles on the road, and a reduced carbon footprint; I'm down with that.

I guess I don't want downtrodden Arabs to pointlessly rebel against dictators and oligarchs who'll brutally suppress them; nor to I want the pessimist's view of an Egypt spiraling into extremism to come true. But, what the hell... let 'em rock the boat for a while. I liked it when, as gasoline prices climbed steadily through 2007-'08, people rolled down their car windows at stoplights and asked me, "What kind of mileage are you getting?"

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