What I Saw in Washington, Or God Bless American Business
Last week I spent eight days on the road, and then, home at last, devoted a day to getting over my jet lag (I suffered, come to think of it, not only jet lag but, courtesy of United Airlines, which delayed my return flight from Boston this past Sunday by nearly five hours, lagging jets), then dug in to the stuff--stuff! There's always stuff!--that had piled up while I was away, forbidding myself so much as a look at Ricochet, knowing that I'd end up spending two hours on the site, catching up. And? Here I am, wanting, by way of a brief report, to offer you a contrast.
In Washington last week, nearly everyone to whom I spoke proved gloomy. Pat Buchanan believes the country's fortunes have reached the point of irreversibility--when he titled his book Suicide of a Superpower, he meant it--while Charles Murray, whom, like Pat, I interviewed for Uncommon Knowledge, writes in his own new book, Coming Apart, that "If the analysis I have presented is completely correct, then all is lost." On Capitol Hill, the consensus view now holds that we're unlikely to recapture the Senate and ought to consider ourselves lucky if we only lose a dozen or so seats in the House. Repeal ObamaCare? The GOP would need 60 votes in the Senate for an outright repeal, Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, also a guest on Uncommon Knowledge explained. "But our party hasn't had 60 votes in this body for almost a century, and I don't expect us to win 60 next year."
At a dinner on my last evening in Washington, I found myself chatting with a Texan, a man in oil and natural gas, and with Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, a friend since our college days.
His company, the Texan explained, is one of the major leaseholders of drilling rights in the Marcellus shale deposit, the formation that runs beneath much of Pennsylvania. New techniques, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, are making available such vast new quantities of natural gas that he expects the price of natural gas, already at historic lows, to remain at least this low for "at least a decade." Drillers face enormous regulatory burdens, the Texan explained, but even at that capital, technology and labor are all still flowing into Pennsylvania, transforming old coal-mining towns and formerly poor agricultural communities. The natural gas bonanza is pushing down the costs of generating electricity--and leading to a rebirth of American manufacturing. Even at that, supplies of natural gas are so abundant that we may soon begin exporting liquified gas to markets in Asia, including Japan.
The United States, exporting natural gas.
At about this point, Sen. Hoeven spoke up, describing what's taking place in the Bakken field back in North Dakota. Throughout the Bakken field, and in similar fields in Canada, new technologies--again, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing--are making available enormous new quantities of oil. North Dakota is already pumping half a million barrels a day--and there's more, much, much more, still to come. In less than a decade, the United States is expected to become the biggest producer of energy in the world--bigger than Saudi Arabia, bigger than Russia. Between the deposits in Canada and all the activity taking place here in our own country, Sen. Hoeven estimated that, if the federal government would only behave sensibly, "North America could become energy self-sufficient in just five years."
Energy self-sufficiency, in just five years.
Yes, I know. Politics represents a high and noble calling--in their own way, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Speaker Boehner, and all the Republicans on Capitol Hill who struggle every day with the Obama administration represent American heroes. But the only people I found in Washington who were really optimistic were discussing not politics but developments made possible by private citizens making use of our capital markets, technological prowess and legal regime--the energy revolution could never have taken place without property rights--to make things happen.
God bless American business.