U.S. Needs a Concrete Energy Policy to Remain Competitive Globally

The United States is slipping in global competitiveness rankings, and our lack of discernible energy policy is a contributing factor.

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Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com

With hurricanes, political conventions, and gasoline prices capturing American media and consumer attention, it would be understandable if you somehow missed a rather dense report from the World Economic Forum that assesses global competitiveness by comparing the "industry, infrastructure, labor market efficiency," and economic performances of nations large and small.

 [ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Reports like these warrant a closer look if you want an honest assessment of whether the United States is moving backward or forward. Of course, our position on the global stage all depends on what other nations are doing at the same time. According to the report, the United States slipped from fifth place in the 2011 Global Competitive Index to seventh in the latest report for 2012-2013. The top 10 are listed as follows: 

  1. Switzerland
  2. Singapore
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Netherlands
  6. Germany
  7. United States
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Japan

[ See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Interestingly enough the report says,

Energy is the oxygen of the economy. The energy industry is known for being highly capital intensive, but its impact on employment is often forgotten. In the United States, for example, the American Petroleum Institute estimates that the industry supports more than nine million jobs directly and indirectly, which is over 5 percent of the country's total employment. In 2009 the energy industry supported a total value added to the national economy of more than U.S.$1 trillion, representing 7.7 percent of U.S. GDP.

Additionally, the report states:

The energy industry significantly influences the vibrancy and sustainability of the entire economy—from job creation to resource efficiency and the environment. The key factors in maintaining the health of this nexus of resources (energy, food, and water) are sustained investment, increased efficiency, new technology, system-level integration (e.g. in urban development), and supportive regulatory and social conditions. Looking towards the decades ahead, this nexus will come under huge stress as global growth in population and prosperity propel underlying demand at a pace that will outstrip the normal capacity to expand supply. To face this strain, some combination of extraordinary moderation in demand growth and extraordinary acceleration in production will need to take place.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.]

That last sentence is worth a second look. American motorists have already reduced demand growth (where oil and gasoline is concerned) for the past 10 years. We're driving less and the vehicles we drive are more fuel efficient.  What's missing? "Extraordinary acceleration in production." OPEC recognizes this. China and India invest accordingly.  

And yet the United States still has no discernible energy policy. Instead we have indecision and uncertainty impeding long-term economic growth.