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Britain would resemble Nigeria more than the US in the way in which it responded to the gift of the gas. A mad politicised scramble for control of the revenues would ensue; they would become the object of political competition, possibly of a very vicious kind. Of course, shareholders in the gas companies and the workers for those companies would participate in the real wealth created, and there would no doubt be a multiplier effect; but the beneficial effects would soon be dwarfed by the harmful ones. In other words, because of out inveterate political entrepreneurialism, we would suffer what was once called the Dutch disease.

Naïve people often allude to the supposed paradox of African countries richly endowed with natural resources that nevertheless remain deeply impoverished. This is not a paradox at all: with the wrong institutions, the wrong ideas and the wrong culture, such resources can be a curse rather than a blessing, increasing in stability as the political fight over those resources becomes more desperate or acute, and undermining other productive activities. In the same way, incidentally, an educated population, if it is educated in the wrong things, imbued with the wrong expectations, is a curse rather than a blessing.

The corporatist culture of Britain, together with an underlying pessimism about the possibility of a durably high standard of living based upon our own intelligent adaptation to a constantly changing world, means that the real wealth that the gas would bring would be soon consumed in an orgy of consumption: sufficient unto the day would be the revenue thereof. But we spare no thought for the morrow not because we are ethical or philosophical followers of the Sermon of the Mount, but because experience has taught us to have no real faith in the future of our country. We are no longer a nation of shopkeepers, but a nation of political manipulators, whose main hope of betterment is a larger slice of whatever cake exists in the present moment. Moreover, we are economic puritans, as puritans were defined by H L Mencken: people who were afraid that someone, somewhere, was enjoying himself. We are afraid that someone, somewhere, is rich, and we would much rather impoverish him than enrich ourselves, slowly, by effort and accretion. Dragging people down is both easier, and to many much more gratifying, than raising themselves up: in whose possibility, in an case, they don't really believe, because there are so many people who would want to drag them down again should they succeed in raising themselves up.

So all economic advantage has to be for the present moment alone; a pound in the hand is worth two in a week. Of course the United States has more natural advantages than Britain; but its real advantage is that it knows how to take advantage of its advantages. And this is a cultural advantage. 

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February 26th, 2013
6:02 PM
The good doctor has more time on his hands that ever, it would seem. He is accelerating his efforts to undermine his own country.

February 26th, 2013
5:02 PM
I`m afraid history will inevitably repeat itself. We are probably the only country to have discovered oil and gone bust

February 11th, 2013
6:02 AM
Don't feel like responding specifically to any of Mr Dalrymple's arguments then Edward?

Edward Harkinsnymous
January 29th, 2013
10:01 AM
Could have been a useful and instructive article were it not spoiled by the crude idealogical and 'cultural' (?) bias that tends to undermine the credibility of the whole piece.

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