NAIROBI – The idea that oil wealth can be a curse is an old one — and it should need no explaining. Every few decades, energy prices rise to the heavens, kicking off a scramble for new sources of oil. Then supply eventually outpaces demand and prices suddenly crash to Earth. The harder and more abrupt the fall, the greater the social and geopolitical impact.
The last great oil bust occurred in the 1980s — and it changed the world. As a young man working in the Texas oil patch in the spring of 1980, I watched prices for the U.S. benchmark crude rise as high as $45 a barrel — $138 in today’s dollars. By 1988, oil was selling for less than $9 a barrel, having lost half its value in 1986 alone.