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Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry--and What We Must Do to Stop It
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Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry--and What We Must Do to Stop It

by Antonia Juhasz

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Why are oil and gas prices so high?

Who's really controlling those prices?

How much oil is left?

How far will Big Oil go to get it?

And at what cost to the environment, human rights, the economy, worker safety, public health, and democracy?

The answers aren't what you think. They're much worse. But there's also plenty that we can do about


Why are oil and gas prices so high?

Who's really controlling those prices?

How much oil is left?

How far will Big Oil go to get it?

And at what cost to the environment, human rights, the economy, worker safety, public health, and democracy?

The answers aren't what you think. They're much worse. But there's also plenty that we can do about it.

As oil prices—and public outrage—skyrocket, Antonia Juhasz, a leading industry critic and expert on corporations and globalization, gives us the hardest-hitting exposé of the oil industry in decades. In The Tyranny of Oil she investigates the true state of the U.S. oil industry—uncovering its virtually unparalleled global power, influence over our elected officials, and lack of regulatory oversight, as well as the truth behind $150-a-barrel oil, $4.50-a-gallon gasoline, and the highest profit in corporate history. Exposing an industry that thrives on secrecy, Juhasz shows how Big Oil manages to hide its business dealings from policy makers, legislators, and, most of all, consumers. She reveals exactly how Big Oil gets what it wants—through money, influence, and lies.

The Tyranny of Oil offers both a new take on problems and a new set of solutions as Juhasz puts forward an immediate call to action—a formula for reining in the industry, its governmental lobbying power, environmental destruction, and violence while reducing global dependence on oil. Her thought-provoking answers to the most pressing energy questions speak directly to readers concerned about oil and gas prices, global warming, wars for oil, and America's place in the world. With the major players in the world's most powerful industry charged with collusion, price-gouging, anticompetitive behavior, and unabashed greed, Juhasz calls boldly for the breakup of Big Oil.

Drawing on considerable historical research, Juhasz explores the parallels between today's companies and Standard Oil, the most powerful corporation of the early twentieth century, whose stranglehold on the economy and government was broken only by the vision and persistence of activists and like-minded politicians. We are in a similar position today, she argues, with powerful opportunities available for ordinary Americans to come together, reclaim their voices, and shore up our nation's crumbling democratic foundation.

A tool for meaningful change that blends history, original investigative research and reporting, candid interviews with key insiders, and a unique focus on activism, The Tyranny of Oil is required reading for every concerned global citizen.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
“[Juhasz] reminds us that those who don’t learn the lessons of history are fated to repeat its mistakes.”
Christian Science Monitor
“A brave, groundbreaking case study.…A good first step toward true energy independence is to read this insightful book.”
Washington Post
“Well-written.…presciently criticizes the weak oversight of the oil futures market.”
Toronto Star
“Part homage to 150 years of anti-monopoly muckraking and trust-busting and part signpost to where the leading edge of the environmental and social activist movements are headed.”
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In this thorough, readable takedown of Big Oil, the most profitable industry in the world, Juhasz (The Bush Agenda) exposes the ways in which a half dozen oil companies have achieved control over American families and U.S. politics, triggering environmental and humanitarian catastrophes they have no intention of resolving. Within 10 years of Standard Oil's founding in 1870, John D. Rockefeller monopolized the refining, marketing and output of U.S. oil; ever since 1890's Sherman Antitrust Act split the company into small constituent parts, oil players have scrambled to evade regulation, regather into ever-greater corporations and regain the ability to set prices and control output. Debunking industry claims over recent oil price escalation, Juhasz exposes how Big Oil has used techniques like speculative futures markets and the "Enron Loophole"-along with massive operations opacity-to reap record profits year after year while growing their political influence; indeed, Juhasz locates the current "oiligarchy" making"the most pressing decisions of our time" from inside George W. Bush's White House, crafting policy and advocating war. Calling for a "Separation of Oil and State," this excellent, wide-ranging study of disastrous monopoly capitalism should shake up notions that major energy players are interested in any alternative to more oil, money and power.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews

"Big Oil has turned our democracy into a farce," claims liberal activist and Institute for Policy Studies fellow Juhasz (The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, 2006) in this timely, blistering critique of the world's most profitable industry.

Nearly a century after the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil Trust, notes the author, a reconstructed trust comprised of a handful of powerful oil companies formed through recent corporate mergers—more than 2,600 in the U.S. petroleum industry from the 1990s to 2004—now dominates much of the decision-making of the American government. During the eight years of the Bush administration, this "oiligarchy" of wealthy firms has spent billions of dollars on political contributions and lobbying to ensure that it is "coddled, subsidized, protected, and preserved by the U.S. government." Juhasz argues that oil companies have made possible, and directly participate in, the unregulated speculation in oil futures that has helped drive oil prices upward (at a time when available supplies in storage tanks exceed global demand). Despite their assertions to the contrary, they are not interested in green alternatives—most invest less than one percent of total capital expenditures on alternative energy—but only in finding more oil in places (tar sands, oil shale, oceans) where extraction will be costly and harmful to the environment. Further, says the author, their quest to control world oil reserves was one of the causes of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and for a massive ongoing realignment of the U.S. military, with bases and deployments following the world's oil supply and transportation routes. Inspired by muckraker Ida Tarbell's landmark 1904book The History of the Standard Oil Company, this white-hot polemic explores many of the industry's complex and secret practices, including zone pricing, which sets wholesale and company-owned gas-station prices according to geographic zones (and explains why gasoline prices can vary greatly among stations within a few blocks). Juhasz believes a growing populist movement will demand Congressional action to break up the current "spawn of Standard Oil: ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Valero, Shell-U.S., and BP America."

Explosive fuel for the raging debate on oil prices.

Agent: Diana Finch/Diana Finch Literary Agency

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Tyranny of Oil

The World's Most Powerful Industry-and What We Must Do to Stop It

By Antonia Juhasz
William Morrow
Copyright © 2008

Antonia Juhasz
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-143450-1

Chapter One Big Oil's Last Stand

Within days of the New Year, 2008 began with three landmark events. Oil reached $100 per barrel for only the second time in history as gasoline prices began an ascent toward the highest prices in a generation. And on January 3, Senator Barack Obama became the first African American to win the Iowa Caucus. Voter turnout broke records as well, with four times more registered Democrats voting than had turned out in 2000. Senator Obama was reserved yet purposeful as he delivered his historic victory speech. He chose to highlight just a handful of policy issues in the fifteen-minute address, making his focus on oil all the more significant. Obama forcefully declared that he would free the United States once and for all from "the tyranny of oil" and then pledged to be the president "who ends the war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home." An already raucous crowd met these pronouncements with thunderous applause and waves of cheers.

"The tyranny of oil" powerfully encapsulates the feelings not only of Americans, but of people the world over. Without viable and accessible alternatives, entire economies suffer when increasing proportions of national budgets must be used to purchase oil. And on an individual level, families, facing the same lack of alternatives, forgo basic necessities when gasoline prices skyrocket. Communities that live where oil is found-from Ecuador to Nigeria to Iraq-experience the tyranny of daily human rights abuses, violence, and war. The tyranny of environmental pollution, public health risks, and climate destruction is created at every stage of oil use, from exploration to production, from transport to refining, from consumption to disposal. And the political tyranny exercised by the masters of the oil industry corrupts democracy and destroys our ability to choose how much we will sacrifice in oil's name.

The masters of the oil industry, the companies known as "Big Oil," exercise their influence throughout this chain of events: through rapidly and ever-increasing oil and gasoline prices, a lack of viable alternatives, the erosion of democracy, environmental destruction, global warming, violence, and war. The American public is fed up with Big Oil. In 2006 Gallup published its annual rating of public perceptions of U.S. industry. The oil industry is always a poor performer, but this time it came in dead last-earning the lowest rating for any industry in the history of the poll.

For a time, it was the rare 2008 presidential candidate who would speak out against the tyrants behind the tyranny of oil. The earliest denunciations came from Democratic senator John Edwards, who came in second and just 8 percentage points behind Obama in the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Edwards repeatedly stated the need to "take on Big Oil," and decried handing the "keys to the corridors of government over to the lobbyists for the big oil companies." Statements such as these quickly earned Edwards the title of the "Populist candidate" for president, as did this one made on January 28, 2008, when Edwards announced that there are "two Americas that exist in this country: there's one for the lobbyists, for the special interests, for the powerful, for the big multinational corporations and there's another one for everybody else. Well I'm here to say that their America is over!" Edwards took his script from Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who represented the Populist and Democratic Parties for president in 1896 and who declared, "On the one side are the allied hosts of monopolies, the money power, great trusts ... who seek the enactment of laws to benefit them and impoverish the people. On the other side are the farmers, laborers, merchants, and all others who produce wealth and bear the burden of taxation."

As the 2008 election progressed, both Obama and his leading Democratic challenger Senator Hillary Clinton went increasingly on the attack against Big Oil, and each was eventually called a "Populist candidate," their words sounding an alarm similar to one made over one hundred years earlier by the Populist movement against corporate trusts generally and Standard Oil in particular, the company from which many of today's oil giants descend.

John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. By the 1880s, Standard Oil controlled 90 percent of all refining in the United States, 80 percent of the marketing of oil products, a quarter of the country's total crude output, and, in this preautomobile era, produced more than a quarter of the world's total supply of kerosene. Standard Oil was renowned for both the ruthlessness and the illegality of its business methods. Dozens of court cases were brought against the company, and Standard Oil was broken up by three separate state-level injunctions. Its response was to change states, making federal action imperative. In addition to the producers, refiners, and other sellers of oil that Standard Oil bought out, bribed, bullied, or burned down, masses of people across the country were enraged by its exercise of control over their government. Standard Oil was not alone. It had perfected the use of the corporate trust, and hundreds of other trusts soon followed. A trust is a combination of corporations in which a board of trustees holds the stock of each individual company and manages the business of all. While the company operates as one giant conglomerate, the individual companies maintain the legal status-and in many cases, including Standard Oil's, the legal fiction-of independence. At the time, the word trust quickly became synonymous with any large corporation.

A newspaper cartoon from the era depicts the U.S. Senate. Towering above the seated senators, three times their individual size, stand grossly obese men representing the trusts. Each man is dressed in top hat and tails. Standard Oil, the most dominant, is the only company depicted by name among the "copper," "iron," "sugar," "tin," "coal," and "paper bag" trusts. Above them a sign is posted: "This is a Senate of the monopolists, by the monopolists, for the monopolists!" Off in the far left corner is a small sign that reads "People's Entrance," below which is a bolted and barred door marked "closed."


Excerpted from The Tyranny of Oil by Antonia Juhasz Copyright © 2008 by Antonia Juhasz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Antonia Juhasz is a leading oil industry, international trade, and finance policy expert. She is the author of The Bush Agenda. A frequent media commentator, Juhasz's writing has been featured in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She is a director at Global Exchange in San Francisco, California.

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