The Business in Between
N one of the interests concerned with the international oil trade -- consuming nations, exporting nations, or the companies in between -- wants the oil to stop flowing; but all would like to see it flowing on slightly different terms. There are, however, inherent limitations to the extent to which most consumer governments, at any rate, would push what might seem to be their short-run self interest; and whether or not this is true of the exporting nations, there are some obvious commercial limitations upon the extent to which any of these could push up their rewards from oil. Each group of governments may think of the companies, from time to time, as ganging up with the other against it; the oil business may sometimes consider the possibility of these two ultimate bargainers combining to squeeze the middleman, but has never yet had to face such a reality. Ideologically, not many governments outside the Communist sphere appear to cherish much desire to take oil operations inside their borders entirely under government ownership; this industry is beset primarily by pragmatic nationalism, rather than theoretical socialism. Equally, few substantial companies in the oil business generally behave as if they believe in laisser faire, though some on occasion feel constrained to talk as if they did. They may be driven into extremes of short-run competitive behaviour from time to time; but most prefer a steadier form of competition looking towards their interests in at any rate the medium run. And whatever their philosophical attitudes towards government intervention in business, oilmen in practice have had years of experience in living with it.
Nowadays, bargaining between governments and companies about many aspects of the oil business goes on virtually without pause; and that it should not stop is perhaps more important to the world than the precise nature of the formulae discussed. But the central subject of the bargaining is being looked at a little differently. It is no longer simply a