November 23, 2005

THE IRAQI OIL TRUST IDEA, pushed here for years, is getting another push in today's Wall Street Journal. It's a subscriber-only link, but here's a bit:

Privatizing Iraq's oil assets, and vesting all citizens with shares, can provide incentive for every Iraqi -- including Sunnis, the insurgency's core -- to view commerce as a better path than violence. Ownership would provide 28 million citizens with a prospective increase in per-capita income of about $5,800, substantially raising their present income. This is unlikely to persuade hard-core terrorists to change course. But turning all Iraqis into stockholders of the nation's oil wealth can win over the support of the bulk of the Sunni population that now backs the insurgency through provision of foot soldiers, intelligence, cover, safe houses or passive acceptance. . . .

At present, oil assets are a government monopoly. Privatizing them and giving every Iraqi an equal share in ownership can be accomplished by turning over the assets to private companies -- two in the south and one each in north and central Iraq -- and vesting all citizens with equal shareholdings in each company, e.g., 5 or 10 shares issued to each Iraqi in each company. Shares could be traded at market-determined prices, but trading would be limited to Iraqis, at least for an initial period of 5-10 years, after which the market might open to foreign participation.

I think that this idea is worth exploring, though sadly politicians won't want to give up this much power. After all, we could do the same thing with federal lands in the United States.