Poor George

Geoffrey Hawthorn

  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power by Daniel Yergin
    Simon and Schuster, 877 pp, £20.00, January 1991, ISBN 0 671 50248 4

On 3 April 1986, at his filling-station in north Dallas, Billy Jack Mason was protesting about the fall in the price of oil. Cars came from as far as Waco, and by breakfast, the queue was six miles long. He was offering unleaded at zero cents a gallon. Reporters sought Billy’s opinion on the future. ‘That’s overseas. Nothing we can do about that till the Arabs get the price right.’ In less than six months the price of West Texas Intermediate, the standard for the futures market that had started three years before on the New York Exchange, had fallen by three-quarters. In the Seventies, American officials had gone to the Middle East to persuade the Arabs and the Iranians to get the price down. Now, Vice-President Bush – on a visit to support ‘moderate’ Arab states during the Iran-Iraq war – was asking them to get it back up again. American producers, not least in Texas, where Bush himself had founded an oil company, Zapata, in the Fifties, were suffering. The White House disavowed the Vice-President’s conversations in the Middle East. ‘Poor George,’ an aide observed to a journalist. The Reagan Administration’s solution was to let the market decide.

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