This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
One of America’s greatest editorial writers, Jack Fuller, when he was editing the Tribune, used to advise writers to try to attack so deftly that their target doesn’t know he’s been decapitated until he tries to walk away. He was speaking figuratively, which we note because of the rough-and-tumble nature of Chicago newspapering. It’s going to be something, in any event, to see Paul Krugman try to walk away from the latest sally by the Wall Street Journal. He may stagger around for a while, but eventually he’ll topple.
The Journal dealt with him in an editorial debunking “Peak Oil.” It began by noting that it’s been “216 years since Thomas Malthus gave birth to the idea that mankind’s appetite for natural resources would outstrip nature’s capacity to supply them. There have since been regular warnings that the world is running out of soybeans, helium, chocolate, tungsten, you name it—and that population growth has become unsustainable. The warnings create a political or social panic for a while, only to be proved wrong.”
Then it turned to “peak oil,” the notion that we are entering “an era of permanent fossil fuels scarcity.” It sketched the collapsing prices, the “explosive” growth of American production, the emergence of fracking. Then it flashed the spadroon. It is worth remembering, the Journal said, “how spectacularly wrong some recent predictions of doom turned out to be.” It noted this was like shooting fish in a barrel, but the tetraodontidae it punctured was Mr. Krugman
It turns out, the Journal noted, that in December 2010 Mr. Krugman had announced that “peak oil has arrived.” It quoted Mr. Krugman as saying: “What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.”
The Journal reminds that the sage Daniel Yergin, in his book “The Quest,” quotes the state geologist of Pennsylvania as warning that “the amazing exhibition of oil” was “a temporary and vanishing phenomenon — one which young men will live to see come to its natural end.” The persistence of the oil myth, the Journal reckons it is “more wish than prediction,” a way of “scaring governments into pouring money into alternative energy sources that can’t compete with oil and natural gas without subsidies and mandates.”
Anyhow, let us see how the Nobel laureate tries to lurch away. He may attempt to claim vindication in the notion that the end of peak oil is further evidence that we need not worry about the danger of inflation (though oil is out of the “core” consumer prices on which Mr. Krugman likes to focus). He may sneer at suggestions that a Dow Jones Industrial Average approaching 18,000 is a phenomenon of fiat money. Or maybe he’ll just try to carry on, as yet another bystander to this astounding story.