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A few days ago, while listening to the worst Nobel Prize lecture that I ever heard, I found myself thinking of those persons who should have received a Nobel Prize in Economics -- which of course is not a genuine Nobel Prize, since it was established by the Swedish central bank (Riksbanken), and not Alfred Nobel.
As a result of my research and teaching at the African Institute for Economic and Development Planning (Dakar, Senegal), I enjoy claiming that where development economics is concerned, the late Hollis B. Chenery of Harvard University should have been close to the top of any intelligent economist's (Nobel) short list. At the time of my employment in Dakar, the cognoscenti regarded him as the most brilliant development economist of the 20th century, even if his fondness for linear programming and input-output analysis kept his work from being given the attention it deserved.
And it still deserves a great deal, because its central theme turns on the theory of comparative advantage, whose value is something that even those of us who received some of our training at store-front universities are made aware of, and which the late Paul Samuelsson -- an American economics colossus -- said should always be kept in mind. The bottom line here is that certain countries in the Middle East now possess the determination, wherewithal, and technical and managerial skills necessary to transform their oil and natural gas into the kind of (physical and commercial) assets that seemed as remote as the Milky Way to my students and myself in Dakar. I mean the kind of assets that will provide them with a new and very large bundle of exportable products (e.g. petrochemicals), as well as the kind of services (e.g. real estate and tourism) that are advertised on CNN countless times a day.
Where does Dubai come into this beautiful development romance. The answer is that the Gulf countries are in the process of becoming a powerhouse in petrochemicals, and their refining efforts might also be on the way to becoming world class. Those countries will also continue to sell some oil and gas, though certainly not as much as sometimes believed. If this is understood, or even partially understood, then it is clear that there is room in that region for a world class financial center, and Dubai is ready, willing and able to fill that role! The story of Dubai therefore synchronizes perfectly with the present and future success stories of the Middle East, and as far as I am concerned its systematic development over the past few decades is a paragon of intertemporal economic development for any developing country. I sadly note though that the details of this brilliant example of economic development are as unknown to present day economics students as the name and work of Professor Chenery is to most of their teachers.
In my oil book (1980) -- which was written in l978-79 -- I made the following singularly unpopular statement about the petrochemical goals of Saudi Arabia (page 192): "These are ambitious targets, and it will be interesting to see whether they are realized or even partially realized, because if they are, it signifies an important breakthrough on the development front: the ability of a less developed country (although a potentially rich LDC) to mobilize, in less than a decade, the capital and skill necessary to challenge some of the industrial giants of Europe on their own turf".
I can still remember the offence that remarks of this kind generated when I gave a series of lectures in Australia in the l980s -- particularly during one acid-like exchange at the Australian National University. But a few years later a Shell Briefing Service document found it possible to make the following statement about some of the petrochemical projects of the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC): "These plants, based on the latest chemical technology, have been completed on or ahead of schedule, which is a considerable technical achievement."
And that was only the beginning. Middle Eastern ethylene -- which is the largest- volume petrochemical and the basic building block for plastics -- appears to be on its way to 30 million metric tonnes (= 30 mt) by 2010, which would mean a market share of about 20% of predicted world consumption. Its output in 2000 was 6 mt.
Jenny Luesby (in the Financial Times, September 21, 2005) also examines this important topic, and among other things she is aware of the value of cheap gas in the long run for the countries of the Middle East. Here it needs to be appreciated that natural gas liquids and the heavier components of natural gas -- propane and butane -- can be 'cracked' to become important inputs in producing chemicals known as olefins (which includes propylene and butadiene, as well as ethylene). Plastics, paints, fibre/textiles, pesticides, synthetic rubber (for tires) and pharmaceuticals are among the end products from olefins.)
It cannot be overemphasized that since energy costs are the key burden for chemical industries, the combination of inexpensive energy and state-of-the-art technology should ensure that the center of gravity of the global petrochemical industry will move toward the 'least-cost' Middle East, where according to comparative advantage it belongs. The decision makers in Dubai and elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates know this, and so they are resting easy, despite the 'schadenfreude' filling the blogosphere when it appeared that Dubai's economy was headed for the tank. Moreover, it is only logical that other UAE states will provide support for Dubai in these troubled times.
Logical in the following sense: Watts and the South Bronx may not qualify for assistance from Wall Street, but bailing out Rodeo Drive and Park Avenue is a very different prospect.
Here it is interesting to cite a contribution of Professor Morris Adelman -- who is no friend of OPEC -- and his co-author Martin B. Zimmerman (1974). "Petrochemical prices (or margins) will move downward. Secondly, in the production of petrochemicals, most LDCs are at a severe and permanent disadvantage for lack of know-how, and the high opportunity cost of capital and feedstocks. Other countries, particularly OPEC members, who do not face these obstacles are expanding their petrochemical capacities. This too will drive prices down, lower the profitability of all plants built today, and force losses on many investors. Few can compete with those that get their feed-stocks at a fraction of world prices, and are willing to earn low or negative rates of return."
Earning "low or negative rates of return" is not (and probably never was) the intention of the new OPEC petrochemical giants, particularly since the first large scale methane-to-ethane plants may be moving into the starting blocks. As a McKinsey consultant once made clear, this process constitutes a technological breakthrough that could inflate the outlook for petrochemicals, although if it doesn't, given the huge quantities of methane at the disposal of OPEC, acceptable margins should be available for a very long time. And even if this technology does not provide the desired effect right away, the major oil producing countries should eventually be able to enjoy lovely profits if they have the capacity to transform inexpensive refinery products into higher-priced petrochemicals.
Adelman and Zimmerman also provide a theory of investment intended to explain why there has been so much investment (or overinvestment) in this industry, despite the disappointments of managers and investors. "If a new plant made enough money in the first few years, and then lost money, it would still be a profitable plant to build. High near-term profits followed by moderate profits or even losses add up to a good present value, greater than the investment needed to get the required return."
The pivotal term above is "present value" -- or better, expected present value. What these authors are talking about is the economy of mass or large volume production. It can then be shown that (ceteris paribus) an increase in volume obtained by lengthening production runs while holding the rate of production -- i.e. output -- constant will often (though perhaps not always) reduce unit costs, since bad news in the distant future will be outweighed by earlier gains. In the classroom a little algebra works well here.
In some key lectures in my course in oil and gas economics at the Asian Institute of Technology (Bangkok, Thailand), I was very careful to point out why of the five largest refineries in North America, four are owned by major oil companies, and also why the good fortune enjoyed by these large and prosperous enterprises will almost certainly be available for the oil exporting countries. Where the oil majors are concerned, when things went bad on the refining side, they had their profits from crude output to fall back on. Some of the OPEC refiners are in an even better position, because they have large supplies of inexpensive natural gas that can be used as feed-stocks, and also provide the energy required for the production activities of both refineries and petrochemical installations. This is an unbeatable combination, and in addition the expanding refinery sectors in OPEC countries can install the absolutely latest technology in these new installations.
So now we know why I recently informed some people that it is wrong to think of Dubai as a likely basket case. As Friederic Nietzsche might have said, the future is much more important than the past where economic development is concerned, and given the (ceteris paribus) future of the oil and gas states of the Gulf, Dubai might still become the kind of Monaco where you can enjoy tennis and people watching, in addition to some very special indoor skiing.
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2008).'The sum of many hopes and fears about the energy resources of the Middle East'. Lecture given at the Ecole Normale Superieure (Paris), May 20, 2008
______ (2007). The Political Economy of World Energy: An Introductory Textbook. London and Singapore: World Scientific.
______ (2000). Energy Economics: A Modern Introduction. Boston and Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
______ (1980). The Political Economy of Oil. Lexington and Toronto: D.C. Heath. Chenery, Hollis and Paul Clarke (1962). Interindustry Economics. New York: Wiley Eltony, Mohamed Nagy (2009). Oil dependence and economic development: the tale of Kuwait. Geopolitics of Energy (May).
Kubursi, A.A. (1984) 'Industrialisation: a Ruhr without water'. In Prospects for the World Oil Industry, edited by Tim Niblock and Richard Lawless. London and Sydney: Croom Helm.
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There is merit in Dubai developing a petrochemical industry as well as a pharmaceutical industry based on oil, natural gas and coal. It is possible to produce synthetic fuel from both natural gas and coal, however, Dubai would find itself in competition with South Africa and China on these fronts. On the other hand, the airport at Dubai has evolved into a major transportation hub . . . and there would certainly be a demand for cost-competitive synthetic aviation fuel that had been processed from natural gas (and coal from Egypt or Australia). Dubai has literally been sent reeling by the economic downturn . . . it will require an extreme of lateral thinking to develop economic strategy based on finance, aviation and petrochemical and pharmaceutical products derived from the region's natural resources (oil and natural gas plus some coal)
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.25.10
By the economic downturn you mean the international economic downturn. As for the rest of it, Dubai is doing fine or will eventually be doing fine. I don't see the Gulf countries having any problem with petrochemicals, because of the availability of oil and gas. This is a future research project for me.
I should mention however that there is a big cheering section for Dubai to fail, and the same is true of the new American government. In the case of Dubai they are wasting their breath. Dubai can provide the financial hub that is needed in that part of the world if they are alert to the requirements of other Gulf countries, and in any event can provide the kind of security that may not be available in many other parts of the world. I also think that, in theory, Libya has a lot to offer , though perhaps later rather than sooner.
Barry Posner 1.26.10
Most of Dubai's wealth is borrowed. It has no natural resources to speak of, and lacks the necessary transparent governance and administrative structures to be a trustworthy financial center.
Malcolm Rawlingson 1.26.10
I found a financial centre that lacks the necessary transparent governance and administrative structures to be a trustworthy financial centre. It's called Wall Street. Who would trust ANYONE there. I don't. Sooner put my money where it is backed by a REAL commodity that everyone needs rather than phoney money from New York. Dubai will not go broke. It's bankrolled by Abu Dhabi and that is bankrolled by oil. Right on once again Professor Banks.
Malcolm Rawlingson 1.26.10
Harry made some points about competition from China and South Africa. Don't think Saudi Arabia needs to worry about either. South Africa is in political disarray and lacks the necessary vision to be a seriouys competitor. China does njot have the methane supplies that the Middle East has. Because oil refining is a highly automated process it is not a labour intensive business so cheap Chinese workers make no difference to the cost of the product. The key as Professor Banks says is to process the material at the point where it comes out of the ground. That has to be the cheapest way. In addition Middle Eastern countries - unlike the west have built up trillions in wealth. They can afford to undercut the rest of the world for years to capture market share...and they will. Just watch.
Don Stowers 1.26.10
I have to agree with Barry Posner on this. Dubai is likely to become more like Hong Kong, a financial center, than a site for petrochemical plants. Yes, the UAE city-state has developed into a transportation hub and somewhat of a tourist destination, but bankers and vacationers don't usually find benzene and other byproducts of hydrocarbon processing compatible with sandy beaches and high-end shopping. In addition, Dubai is in debt up to its eyeballs, and it's unlikely banks and institutional investors with increasingly conservative lending practices will be interested in forking over the billions needed for such an expensive endeavor.
That said, my modest proposal is to construct petrochemical plants and refineries in Haiti. Something needs to be done to rebuild that impoverished nation of 8.6 million and few natural resources. Did you know that only 12% of Haitian households have electricity? And this was before the earthquake. Humanitarian aid is temporary and insufficient. We need to teach the Haitian people to catch their own fish.
It also would be desirable for several major universities known for their high-caliber science and engineering programs to create scholarships for promising Haitian students to study engineering and technology so they can return to their homeland and become part of the professional staff and later management at these new industrial facilities. Eventually Haiti might even develop its own technology centers and institutions of higher learning. I have seen this happen with students from India and other emerging nations, and it would be the best gift the world could give to Haiti.
Is this a pipe dream? Of course. But it could happen if the right people got behind it. ExxonMobil and other major oil companies give out millions in scholarships every year. Maybe some of this seed money could go to Haiti.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.27.10
Don, you're dreaming, arn't you? Or have you - like a couple of the guys in my company at Fort Lewis - started your day off with a good drink of gin or vodka? I have only known a couple of people/students from Haiti, and they were as smart as any of my Swedish finance students, and that's smart, but they were in no hurry to leave Sweden. As for major universities in the US passing out scholarships, they can pass one to me. I'd like to sit in a course in Strength of Materials again, and in my spare time I'd give a course in mathematical economics.
I won't bother to elaborate on the comments of Malcolm, because he's told us - where us includes you - all we need to know. Dubai borrowed in order to construct those luxury apartments, hotels, and the rest of it. Moreover, unlike the ignorant government of Sweden, the people who call the shots in Dubai want to make something special out of their country. Here in Sweden politicians don't think that they are living if they don't go on a boot-licking excursion to Brussels every month.
Something I've noticed though is the fantastic irrationality where the countries of the Middle East are concerned. Sometimes I have a feeling that a suggestion that Dubai or e.g. the rest of the emirates know what they are doing in the matter of economic development will put me on a no-fly list back in my former home state of Illinois - or maybe that should be a no-Greyhound Bus list. And of course, if Bill Clinton had sent the medicine and food to the children and elderly people of Iraq that he should have sent them - instead of grinning and making a fool of himself in the White House - we wouldn't have had the recent war in Iraq, with all the damage that it did and will continue to do.
Don Stowers 1.27.10
Come now, professor, it wasn't the Clinton administration's failure to send medicine and food to the children and elderly people of Iraq that caused the war. It's doubtful any aid from the U.S. would have gotten to the people who needed it due to the corrupt government. Certainly the Kurds and Shiites would have received a paltry share, if any, and the Baathist regime of Saddam would have profited financially from the supplies. The preemptive war was a result of a deception carried out by the Bush-Cheney administration that led the American people to believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that he planned to use them against us, a claim that has since been thoroughly discredited. If I'm not mistaken, Gen. Colin Powell, then U.S. Secretary of State, has since apologized for his role in this deception and called it the low point of his career.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.28.10
Mostly correct Don, but the failure of Clinton was (for me at least) a major element in the sequence of events leading to that war. .A couple of billion dollars of food and medicine, and some creative diplomacy, might have done the job, although - admittedly - ignorance and stupidty of the Bush-Rice variety is capable of causing a lot of trouble for the rest of us.
As for this business of medicine and food not getting to children and elderly, that is exactly wrong. The Swiss and the Swedes could easily have passed out those goodies, and if some of it ended up with Saddam's tank crews, so what. WHY TAKE SOMETHING THAT IN REALITY IS SIMPLE, AND MAKE IT COMPLICATED. And yes, it was Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice who manufactured the lie about weapons of mass destruction, but the most interesting part of that was the former Marine Corps captain who led a survey team to Iraq, and flatly stated that there were no weapons of mass destruction in that country.
Jeff Presley 1.28.10
There's an old saying, "If you owe the bank $1M dollars, you have a problem. If you owe the bank $10M dollars, the bank has a problem. Abu Dhabi has the problem here.
I have some relatives who live in Dubai. Having spent most of their lives in the Mideast as expatriates, Dubai is the best of a bad situation. They still are a bit iffy in their laws concerning non Muslim ownership of property and a few other gotchas that investors and potential homeowners have been worrying about for several years before the boom busted. Building out a massive development onto the ocean and trying to sell it to Europeans looking for a little sand and surf might not have been the most brilliant move. Especially when the French women accustomed to going topless in Cannes have burqa wearing neighbors next door.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.29.10
There are a lot of people in this old world of ours who have the geld to take a vacation or buy some real estate in a place about the size of Dubai. A lot. I doubt whether it is going to take much work to get that state in shape to attract many of those people. On the basis of what I know about the place, it can't miss - although, admittedly, if the wrong people are allowed at the helm, then all bets are off.
Len Gould 1.29.10
Jeff: Who the heck was the planner / architect who put the ceement ponds out front by the road?
Len Gould 1.29.10
Ohh, wait, I get it. That's actually out back by the beach, isn't it? Sorry.
Jeff Presley 1.30.10
Unfortunately Fred, the wrong person at "the helm" is one coup away. When the bad guys come with their guns, the royalty will be off in their private jets before you can say, "Revolucion" or however they say it in Arabic. Just look what happened when Kuwait got invaded back in 91. The civilian peasants were raped and pillaged by the Iraqis while the ruling class were taking a ski jaunt in the French Alps. Looking at those nice multi-million guilder estates above, ask yourself how reasonable it would be to purchase same given that the next rulers can simply take it away because you aren't from the right tribe or right religion. That's the rub, that's why sales have slowed down on those estates, even if it is beautiful as long as you like 100+ degree days. Their law is very clear, only Muslims may own land in a Muslim country.
Ferdinand E. Banks 1.30.10
I see where you are coming from, Jeff, but those ads on CNN tell me that when I get my million, I can buy the full legal right to use a urinal, dance the hoochy-coochy, or drink rotgut in fancy places like Dubai. or the Greek islands. Besides, it's supply and demand, isn't it. My money my rules. As far as I can tell, Dubai's big advantage is its fairly small size and the fairly small number of legal citizens, and so it seems to me that they can always compete with places like e.g. Libya, which should eventually become a big tourist attraction, where the advantage is location and enough oil money to make the necessary investments.
As for the temperature, well....
Jim Beyer 2.1.10
I don't see what the problem is Jeff. To become a Muslim, you just have to recite the Shahada in public ("There is no God but God"). I understand the counter-spell can be somewhat problematic....
Malcolm Rawlingson 2.3.10
Don, As much as one might like the idea of building a petrochemical refinery in Haiti I think one would have to off their proverbial financial rocker to invest a few billion in such a project. A few problems I see.
1. Haiti has no oil. 2. Haiti has no gas 3. Haiti has no personnel who have the slightest idea how to operate a refinery 4. Haiti, as we have seen, is in an earthquake zone. Not a good place to put such a facility.
3 & 4 can be overcome with training and structural engineering. 1 and 2 are somewhat dicey.
Professor Banks point is that the cheapest way of converting oil and gas to useful petrochemical products is to place your refinery right at the well head or as close to it as you can get. Transport costs are then zero, raw material costs are the lowest and the Gulf states have the Moolah to buy the very latest and most efficient technology so labour costs are minimised.
For my 10 cents worth I suggested that in addition (to capture market share) the Gulf states could afford to undercut current producers for years. Once they are out of business the market is all theirs.
Dubai (and all of the UAR) are indeed too rich and too smart to fail.
Ferdinand E. Banks 2.4.10
Good points Malcolm. Of course, I didn't really say "good points" because it would not have been politically correct, but... On the other hand, a gentleman named Engdahl thinks that Haiti is in the middle of a gigantic oil structure, and Uncle Sam is going to use the present situation to grab.
One thing might be relevant here however, is that the Gulf States are not particularly concerned about market share. Their strategy turns on price, and price over a long period rather than short, although market share might enter the equation implicitly. I gave a lecture on this once, but my audience had a problem with higher mathematics - you know, addition and subtraction.
Jim Beyer 2.4.10
Just an odd point to mention.
The notion of placing a refinery at the well-head has been advanced for hydrogen as well. (It was even suggested to me by a Ford engineer as a method of "hydrogen storage"). So you build a NG reformer near a natural gas well which produces hydrogen and CO2 from the natural gas. You pump the waste CO2 back in the ground, and run your single pipeline of hydrogen to your consumption location. Neat and simple, right?
Unfortunately, not so simple. Hydrogen is such a lousy and bulky fuel, that you'd actually be better off running TWO pipelines. One containing the NG running to the consumption point and another containing the waste CO2 running BACK to the well-head. It's cheaper to move 2 molecules (1 CH4 and 1 CO2) instead of 3.2 molecules of hydrogen.
Sorry. Back our scheduled programming.
I don't think it would be horrible on the face of it to have a refinery in Haiti. Is moving processed product really as cheap as moving crude oil? It would probably be in the strategic interest of North America to have refineries a bit closer to home. Maybe they could optimize it to process that Orinoco stuff from Venezuela that's so thick you can almost lug it around in bales.
Also, don't financial centers need to be places that financial people want to go? Note how London has remained an important financial center despite ceding economic leadership over 60 years ago. I'm not sure you can just make talented people go where they don't want to go. To do that, Dubai in the least would have to cede their social norms to world standards, which I don't think their backers are prepared to do.
Jeff Presley 2.4.10
Jim, The other bigger problem with Hydrogen is it is such an itty bitty atom, it tends to escape from whatever you try to put it in. Pipelining H2 means you'll be losing lots of it along the way. In a sense like electrical power along the grid, but I think the H2 losses would be higher than the resistance losses, unless you spent a ton on the pipes, O-rings, pumps etc.
As to social norms, perhaps you've hit the nail on the head on why so many Muslims take up residence in London once they have the chance. Maybe there's a key to that counter-spell we don't know about. Of course if their ahem, friends, keep blowing up public transit they may over stay their welcome.
Ferdinand E. Banks 2.4.10
Americans build a refinery in Haiti instead of on Park Avenue or Rodeo Drive? That's taking globalism/internatiionalism a little too far, isn't it?
Where this hydrogen business is concerned, I can say the same thing about it as about coal. There is too much energy involved for it to be ignored. Something is going to have to be done to access that energy (in one form or another) and it will be done. American science/management is capable of cutting that cake. What will NOT be done is to find e.g. oil where there is none. Even Harry Houdini wouldn't be able to do that.
Moving to social norms, I dont see why some minor adjustments can't be made. These are made all the time everywhere. I can remember when the kind of cursing and swearing we used in the barracks was looked down on by 'decent folk' - to include those who were using it, and now you can hear it every day on prime time TV.
Malcolm Rawlingson 2.5.10
No oil company with any brains would build a refinery on Haiti as much as one would like to.
Besides I think the people in Haiti need homes to live in, schools, hospitals and roads before they need refineries.It is not horrible to think about the idea Jim - indeed I commend your compassion. For good or bad it is economics not compassion that drives such decisions. Plus the americans would never build one there - they don't speak the language.
The economics of moving raw material as opposed to finished goods shouldn't need explaining. You make a lot more money shipping container loads of polypropylene beads than you do from tankers of crude oil. Value added and all that. I am sure our learned professor of economics will be support that notion....or educate me otherwise I am sure.
Why would the middle east ship raw material to the US when they can make the big money by making products at home. Sounds like smart business to me. I'll be watching to see how it all pans out.
Ferdinand E. Banks 2.6.10
That's it Malcolm, and you know the bottom line in all this for the Gulf Countries: EXPORT AS LITTLE CRUDE AS POSSIBLE. Incidentally, I'm not giving them or anyone else advice, what I'm trying to do is to explain to our political masters that those experts and scholars talking about the huge amount of oil that will become available once this or that happens are in reality ignoramuses and/or fools or, most likely, they are on the take. They have been bought.
Malcolm Rawlingson 2.6.10
If I was sitting on large quantities of any material that the world needed why would you export it all. You'd want to keep it for your own country. Sounds completely logical to me Fred. Alot of people don't see that writing on the wall though....or someone paid them a pile of cash not to see it...which also sounds completely logical.
Ferdinand E. Banks 2.8.10
A couple of days ago I saw something from the Gulf News saying that a new oil structure had been found off the coast of Dubai, and exploitation will soon begin.
Please note, the assumption in this article is that no new oil is necessary for Dubai to come out of this downturn smelling like roses, but if there really is new oil out there, then you can tell the legion of doubters to find something else to doubt.
And Malcolm, piles of cash decide a lot of things these days. Sweden spends a billion Swedish crowns a year on its silly commitment in Afghanistan, just so the Swedish foreign minister - and maybe the prime minister - can get international jobs when they leave office in this country. Blair and Brown are on the same kick in the UK.
Instead of watching TV soap operas, the voters should read the morning papers.
Malcolm Rawlingson 2.9.10
I agree Fred, If you want to know why people do the things they do - just follow the money and you'll find the answer. My old Dad used to say "money speaks all languages". The older I get the more I realize the wisdom of that statement.
As for the voters - unfortunately they spend more time watching superbowl than they do thinking about what is going on in the world. And for some thinking about anything at all is a real challenge.
It is why the politicians get away with what they do. No-one challenges them.
And as for soap operas - well what is going on in Coronation Street is so much more important than your local MP fleecing you for expenses never incurred.
The public deserve every politician they elect.
I think I am getting cynical in my old age Fred.
Malcolm Rawlingson 2.9.10
Just a further point Fred, If you can "convince" the rating agencies that junk investments are Triple A rated then surely paying some analyst or other to prove black is white should present no problem at all.