Questions for teachers and students reading Crude Politics
Market-making: How are markets made for commodities? How does market-making vary across time, between the nineteenth and twentieth century, and across different industries, from lumber to fish to oil? What other factors shape the market, in addition to property rights, taxation, regulation and public investment? Compare Sabin’s analysis of the California oil market to Arthur McEvoy’s The Fisherman’s Problem, a study of the California fisheries, or James Willard Hurst’s Law and Economic Growth, a history of the Wisconsin lumber industry.
American Capitalism: How would you describe the relationship between business and government discussed in the book? Was the California oil economy a “free market” in oil, a planned market, or another kind of market? What does the author’s analysis of California oil politics suggest about the nature of United States capitalism in the early twentieth century? How does the author’s argument about economic development compare to works like William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis or Alfred Chandler’s The Visible Hand?
California History: What role did the fight over oil resources play in California politics between 1900 and 1940? How important were petroleum politics to the rise ofCalifornia’s New Deal Democrats? To what extent did oil money and politics produceCalifornia’s renowned beach and park system? How did state and federal oil politics differ? Why?
Public Finance: Does the public retain a financial interest in oil lying under public lands? What share of oil profits should the public treasury have captured in the San Joaquin Valley or coastal California? Is the user financing system for highways fair?Why or why not? Why did highway advocates give the user financing system constitutional protection in 1938?
Energy politics: How does California’s experience with oil fit into the international struggle over access to petroleum depicted in books like Daniel Yergin’s The Prize? Should the United States have kept title to oil lands, or sold them to individuals and companies? Was the 1909 Taft Administration oil land withdrawal wise? Fair?Successful? Was Albert Fall right to lease the Teapot Dome and Elk Hills oil reserves?
Should the California or federal government have tried to control oil production in the 1920s and 1930s? How did private, state, and national strategies differ? How did United States federalism shape California’s experience with natural resource management? How does California’s story compare with Texas and Oklahoma?
Current Implications: What lessons can be drawn from the rise of the oil age for our current environmental, transportation, and energy policies? What are the implications for national energy policy, or for recent efforts to boost fuel economy and regulate carbon dioxide emissions? Why does the book close by saying that only politics can provide solutions to our current energy and transportation challenges? Is there any way to separate oil from politics?