28 July 2008

The Next Great Migration

My old Dad (may he rest in peace) had a favorite saying that went, "Too old too soon too smart too late". Whenever he said that my brother and sisters and I would roll our eyes at each other because we knew that we were on the verge of receiving another lecture. I really and truly miss my Dad and I wish that he was still here to lecture me. As I enter my seventh decade on this Earth I am thinking that he may have been on to something and that now I myself am "too old too soon and too smart too late". On the plus side of things I have finally lived long enough to recognize reoccurring patterns and when I see one coming I speak up about it and just like the slapstick clown who is about to get hit on the head for the third time I say, "Hey! Wait a minute!".

Back in the year 1970 I was living and working in Arizona. I lived in a mobile home at the time in a small community called "Apache Junction" that was located a few miles east of the City of Mesa in the Phoenix area on the edge of the Superstition Mountains. In October of 1973 some of the Arab nations initiated the Yom Kippur War against Israel and as a result of the actions taken by the United States in support of Israel the Arab countries shut off the crude oil supply. The U.S. was importing about 35% of its energy needs at the time and there was very little in reserve. Richard Nixon was the president and he took some emergency action but it was not enough to prevent a colossal downturn in the U.S. economy and I remember remarking to myself on Christmas Eve of 1973 that "The lights seem to be going out all over America".

In 1972 the price of crude oil had been about $3.00 per barrel and by the end of 1974 the price of crude had multiplied by a factor of four to $12.00. I remember seeing people moving down to Arizona in droves from the Northern States, especially the Northeast, in rusty cars topped with a couple of mattresses, a backseat full of kids, and towing a U-Haul trailer. The population of the Phoenix area exploded. There were not enough jobs to go around or affordable housing and there was a tremendous strain on social services. The teachers in the local school system could tell if a kid was a recent arrival from the North just by their smell. They smelled like wood smoke. Many new arrivals lived out in the desert in tents during their first winter until they could get properly situated with a job and regular housing which was very difficult in the recession that followed. It was especially hard on the kids.

From 1974 to 1978 the world crude oil prices were relatively flat, ranging from $12.21 to $13.55 per barrel as the economy struggled to recover. Then, just as things were looking up, the crude oil demon struck again and this time in the form of a labor strike by the oil workers of Iran who wanted a bigger share of the pie. The U.S backed Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was unable to deal with the situation and he abdicated the Persian Peacock Throne. His political adversary, the Ayatollah Khomeini, returned from exile in France and the Iranian Revolution began. At about the same time Iran was invaded by Iraq and the combination of events greatly reduced crude oil production. The Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq War caused the price of crude oil to more than double. It increased from about $14.00 in 1978 to $35.00 in 1981. Guess what? There was another recession in the United States and another North to South migration from the "Rust Belt" to the "Bible Belt".

Over the next twenty years or so crude oil prices fluctuated up and down and even sank to $10.00 per barrel for a brief period in 1997 when the OPEC nations were squabbling among themselves. By May 2004, however, crude oil had reached $40.00 and by April 2006 it reached $70.00 per barrel. Since April 2006 it has more than doubled and not only that but our percentage of imported energy has also doubled from the 1973 level of 35 percent to 70 percent today. Okay! Enough is enough. What the politicians and the Wall Street analysts and the oil company executives tell me is one thing but what I know from my own experience is another. I am not about to let them hit me on the head again like a clown. There is going to be a bad recession and there is going to be another migration from the North to the South. How could there not be with so many Americans struggling within the American system to make ends meet and the cost of home heating oil rising from last year's $2.67 per gallon to this year's projected price of $4.68 per gallon...not to mention the other energy prices for propane, natural gas, and electricity rising as well?

There are so many groups of people whom I empathize with. First of all I feel sorry for the kids. They are innocent bystanders and they deserve better. Second, I feel sorry for single parents. What are they going to do when the snow flies? Many of them are already working two jobs. The third group are the old and infirm. I think that they are getting scared and confused and are wondering how they are going to cope. I am generally an optimist but even an optimist can't ignore an obvious reality. As for the politicians and their "guru" buddies the economists, I can only repeat the chorus of a song written by P.F. Sloan in 1965 and popularized by singer Barry McGuire:

"But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
That you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction."

I just hope that it is not too late for them to get smart!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.