“Blood Oil” by Leif Wenar proposes a “Clean Trade” policy


Author: Leif Wenar
Title, Subtitle: Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence and the Rules that Run the World
publication date 2016
ISBN  ISBN 978-0-19-026292-1,
Publication: Oxford University Press, 494 pages, hardcover, indexed, references, endnotes, with a 53-page low roman “introduction”:
Link: author, Amazon


Leif Wenar’s “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World” was being sold at the Cato Institute recentky, although it would be hard to say that the book fits nicely into modern libertarian thought.

In 53 roman-numeral pages of Introduction, foreword (“Need to know”) and summary, the author makes the point that citizens in a democratic society are on the moral hook if they buy products or services derived from natural resources stolen from poorer people around the world.

The main book is in five sections, whose titles (“The, v Them”, “Them v. Us vs US”, “The People’s Rights”, Clean Trade”, and “All United” track the logic of the book.


The grand conclusion is that countries (or their constituencies) should implement “Clean Trade”, which would mean that their governments won’t allow imports from countries that don’t meet certain minimal standards of accountabilities to their peoples.  The author even suggests that the money from imports be directed into the bank accounts of the people in the resource-origin countries.

The authors show how dictatorial leaders become “addicted” to natural resource income.  Equatorial Guinea is one particularly bad country, but the author does spend some space on Saudi Arabia, which, as Fareed Zakaria has often written, has fallen into sponsoring Islamist extremism around the Arab world in order to keep the royal monarchy in power. Saudi Arabia is a bit of a paradox as it looks like a rather livable, rich place, as if on another planet. Of course (and ironically) much of the unrest — exported as terrorism — seems to accompany lower oil prices.

The authors also trace the evolution of human rights, from the times of “Westphalia” when monarchs and royalty were the only people with “right” and common people were “subjects” to be taken care of like pets. The laws of war made conquest of another people and expropriation of private lands “legal” because it had been assumed that only royalty really had property. This led to the “might makes right” idea.

Of course, terrorism usually bases its strategy on the idea that ordinary civilians must bear the personal moral hazard for what their governments do, which may allow citizens “unjust” takings from other parts of the world.  We really heard this kind of thinking in the early 70s with the first oil embargo of 1973.

The author has an interesting view of communism, where he sees the Cold War against communism as like one long civil war within advanced civilization.

The author also talks about the legal foundation of property rights, noting that the legal systems of western countries do not hole individuals accountable if the resources or labor upon which the products they purchased “legally” had been “stolen” by dictators.

(Published: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 2:30 PM EDT)


Update: July 9

There is a company “Fairphone” claiming to be the “smart phone with social values.” Geoffrey A. Fowler asks “Is it possible to make smartphones ethically?” in the Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” on July 7.