This Pacific Business News story from a few hours ago is very easy to understand: the average price of gasoline in the state of Hawaii hasn’t changed in the last two weeks, and remains at $2.45/gallon. This compares favorably to Alaska, where the average price is $2.51/gallon, and unfavorably to Wyoming, where it’s a mere $1.73/gallon.
All of these prices are, compared to the rest of the world, quite low. As this CNNMoney.com chart makes terribly clear, pretty much the rest of the developed world gets boned at the gas pump. A big part of the reason for such price disparities lies in the simple act of bribing dictators, as Ken Silverstein wrote in sickening detail in this recent Harper’s article profiling an “oil fixer” (sub. required).
“Americans want their gasoline cheap,” Ely Calil, who makes his living facilitating deals between oil companies and oil-rich governments, tells Silverstein with characteristic flair. “But it’s not possible without cutting a few corners.”
Put simply, Calil and other fixers bribe government officials like those who rule Nigeria (a notorious human rights violator) to get firms access to oil. Much later in the story, Calil elaborates on the overall nastiness of the whole situation:
If you want to end corruption, you have to become the policeman of the world, and put in prison–in America–the Obiangs and Dos Santoses and the Qaddafis. But the businessman has no choice but to do what these guys want. He’s between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Chinese are coming to Africa and promising 25 percent for concessions. So what do you do: say the U.S. government doesn’t approve? The Chinese will give you the finger…. No one looks forward to paying bribes. It’s no joke, and it’s coming out of [the fixer’s] pocket, not yours or Uncle Sam’s. But if you have to do it, you have to do it.
The moral compromise here is staggering–poor people suffer in Africa under the fists of brutal despots so Americans don’t have to pay more than a couple bucks for a gallon of gasoline. And the fact that Calil is so open with Silverstein means that this just isn’t controversial. Hell, I own a gasoline-powered vehicle. It’s nothing more than the cost of doing business, or at least, that’s how we’re all encouraged to think about it.