Readable Energy Facts


Energy: The Created Crisis, by Antony C. Sutton, New York: Books in Focus, 1979, 175 pp., $10.95.

Antony Sutton aims to cash in on the concern over energy availability with his Energy: The Created Crisis. And why shouldn't he? Most of the "facts" that reach the public through the popular press are distorted half-truths, and the scholarly articles are either too deep for general consumption or irrelevant to the man-in-the-street's concern. Sutton has remedied that problem by writing a straightforward and short book that has the relevant facts on oil, gas, coal, and nuclear "reserves," as well as (for the most part) a correct analysis of why, in the midst of plenty, we have an "energy crisis."

The greatest virtue of this book is its readability. One need not be an economist to understand Sutton's discussion. He tells us in plain English (and provides ample data) what our energy supplies are in a physical sense and why, nonetheless, there is a "shortage."

As readers of this magazine are certainly aware, the political process in all of its various manifestations is the primary culprit. Sutton argues at a fairly elementary level that government price controls, leasing policies, offshore drilling restrictions, and subsidies have all resulted in a massive misallocation of resources and, ultimately, in both higher prices and shortages in energy. Sutton attributes the origin and continuation of these policies to economic ignorance, liberalism, big business "collectivists," and governmental bureaucracy. To solve the crisis, of course, we must end the interventionism.

But while I don't object to the fundamental thrust of the book—given its obviously intended audience—I do object to the manner in which Sutton has said some things and, additionally, to things not said that ought to have been said. First, in terms of organization, the book looks to be a fairly quick-and-dirty effort; some chapters are very short (the chapter on coal is less than five pages) and the book is padded with totally blank pages and some charts and graphs that could have been put in appendixes.

More importantly, however, there are serious gaps in the analysis, particularly in terms of historical perspective. For example, there is no discussion of oil policy prior to 1957 and of the complicated interrelationship between American foreign (military) policy and petroleum policy. Even current policy is sketchily presented. For instance, there is no discussion whatever of the monstrous "entitlements" program, of the factors that led, inevitably, to its creation, and to the subsidy that it creates to import foreign oil.

Also, there is no discussion of Price-Anderson in Sutton's nuclear discussion. His chapter on nuclear is one-sidedly favorable, hardly a balanced account. To write a book on the energy crisis that points to the political process as the ultimate villain but not to mention (much less analyze) the effects of Price-Anderson or the role of the public utility industry generally, would appear inexplicable.

This is a useful book for the interested citizen. Additional care in preparation and argument might have made it an important book, as well.

D.J. Armentano teaches economics at the University of Hartford and is the author of The Myths of Antitrust.