Movies as an Education in Global Looting: The Sea Hawk (1940)

Movies and the World as an Arena of Violent Domination and Global Looting

The classic Warner Brothers swashbuckler, The Sea Hawk, from 1940, within its romantic adventures and intricate swordfights (perhaps comparable to the car chases of later movies) is a partly historical, partly fictional version of a world built on imperial struggles and ransacking and despoiling. The hegemonic power in the West (and perhaps worldwide) is Spain. Phillip II the king-emperor wants to own and dominate and rule the whole world. In 1588, his Spanish Armada loses to England. (The British of course want to compare this to the Battle of Britain against the German Luftwaffe.)

Set in 1585, The Sea Hawk opens with King Philip II of Spain plotting world domination, laughing that all world maps will soon read simply “Spain” — once England is out of the way, of course.

The Spanish ambassador departs for England to escort his niece to Queen Elizabeth’s court, but in a spectacular sea battle, the Spanish galley is soundly damaged, boarded, raided and sunk by a group of pirates led by Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a Sir Walter Raleigh stand-in played by Erroll Flynn. Thorpe rescues the galley slaves — they row the boat — and spares the crew, taking them aboard and delivering them to England. The jewels and other bounty (or a portion thereof) are a gift to the Queen.

His crew is part of a noble privateer coalition — the Sea Hawks — who justify their piracy as reclamation of English goods (and enslaved sailors) from the Spanish behemoth. The political fallout from Thorpe’s abduction of the ambassador forces Elizabeth to outlaw the Sea Hawks, including an official denial (and private approval) of his mission to Panama to steal a shipment of Aztec gold.

Inca gold is also mentioned in the movie as a target of robbing.

Sir John Hawkins (1532–1595), part of this group of global sailor-pirates and master-mariners, was one of the most notable sailors and naval commanders of the sixteenth century.

He is known for his pivotal role in the maritime history of England and the rise of the global slave trade.

John Hawkins, the son of a merchant, was born in Plymouth in 1532. He became a sea captain and in 1562 became the first Englishman to start capturing people in Sierra Leone and selling them as slaves to Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. (Notice that selling slaves does not discriminate against Spaniards even with Phillip II threatening England. Business is business.)

Stealing Aztec gold as part of colonial or imperial plundering and the slave trade were part of the dark side of history, something the standard history books “skate over” dishonestly.

A key scene between the Spanish aristocratic beauty and Captain Thorpe:

Doña María Álvarez de Córdoba: “I’m not in the habit of conversing with thieves. I thought I made that quite clear, Captain Thorpe.”

Captain Geoffrey Thorpe: “Why, yes, all except your definition. Tell me, is a thief an Englishman who steals?”

Doña María Álvarez de Córdoba: “It’s anybody who steals… whether it’s piracy or robbing women.”

Captain Geoffrey Thorpe: “Oh, I see. I’ve been admiring some of the jewels we found in your chest… particularly the wrought gold. It’s Aztec, isn’t it? I wonder just how those Indians were persuaded to part with it.”

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Donald Trump continues this tradition of looting when he says of Iraq’s oil:

“Think of it as our oil under their sand.”

Thus the whole world is an arena where the weak don’t have any property rights: not the oil or gold, not themselves (slavery) and not their country (colonialism).

This exploitative hierarchy and “world-system” is part of “the way of the world” and even a romantic adventure story like 1940’s The Sea Hawk gives you a Hollywoodized glimpse into its roots. Imperial struggles in the West spill over into colonization and ransacking and looting. History books one sees in high school are dishonest and in that sense uninformative or even disinformative.

The popular PBS travel series Rick Steves’ Europe unintentionally gives us a wonderful example of this notion of plunder and looting as a pillar of world history in the show on Venice. Rick Steves is talking about the various statues in Venice’s central St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and comments “I’d call the style ‘Early Ransack.’”

This Rick Steves quip about ransacking and historical wealth-building is very informative.

Carbon-Watching: Will Civilization Collapse Because It’s Running Out of Oil?

[from the Post Carbon Institute]


This paper [Archived PDF] assesses how much oil remains to be produced, and whether this poses a significant constraint to global development. We describe the different categories of oil and related liquid fuels, and show that public-domain by-country and global proved (1P) oil reserves data, such as from the EIA or BP Statistical Review, are very misleading and should not be used. Better data are oil consultancy proved-plus-probable (2P) reserves. These data are generally backdated, i.e. with later changes in a field’s estimated volume being attributed to the date of field discovery. Even some of these data, we suggest, need reduction by some 300 Gb for probable overstatement of Middle East OPEC reserves, and likewise by 100 Gb for overstatement of FSU (floating storage unit) reserves. The statistic that best assesses ‘how much oil is left to produce’ is a region’s estimated ultimately recoverable resource (URR) for each of its various categories of oil, from which production to-date needs to be subtracted. We use Hubbert linearization to estimate the global URR for four aggregate classes of oil, and show that these range from 2500 Gb for conventional oil to 5000 Gb for ‘all-liquids’. Subtracting oil produced to-date gives estimates of global reserves of conventional oil at about half the EIA estimate. We then use our estimated URR values, combined with the observation that oil production in a region usually reaches one or more maxima when roughly half its URR has been produced, to forecast the expected dates of global resource-limited production maxima of these classes of oil. These dates range from 2019 (i.e., already past) for conventional oil to around 2040 for ‘all-liquids’. These oil production maxima are likely to have significant economic, political and sustainability consequences. Our forecasts differ sharply from those of the EIA, but our resource-limited production maxima roughly match the mainly demand-driven maxima envisaged in the IEA’s 2021 ‘Stated Policies’ scenario. Finally, in agreement with others, our forecasts indicate that the IPCC’s ‘high-CO2’ scenarios appear infeasible by assuming unrealistically high rates of oil production, but also indicate that considerable oil must be left in the ground if climate change targets are to be met. As the world seeks to move towards sustainability, these perspectives on the future availability of oil are important to take into account.

Read the full paper. [Archived PDF]

Bruegel Publication Alert: The EU-Russia-China Energy Triangle

Policy Contribution

(from Bruegel)

By Georg Zachmann

Concern is growing in the European Union that a rapprochement between Russia and China could have negative implications for the EU.

We argue that energy relations between the EU and Russia and between China and Russia influence each other. We analyze their interactions in terms of four areas: oil and gas trading, electricity exchanges, energy technology exports and energy investments.

We discuss five key hypotheses that describe the likely developments in these four areas in the next decade and their potential impact on Europe:

  1. There is no direct competition between the EU and China for Russian oil and gas.
  2. China and the EU both have an interest in curbing excessive Russian energy rents.
  3. The EU, Russia and China compete on the global energy technology market, but specialize in different technologies.
  4. Intercontinental electricity exchange is unlikely.
  5. Russia seems more worried about Chinese energy investments with strategic/political goals than about EU investments.

Read the full report [Archived PDF].

Essay 83: Press Release: World Energy Outlook 2019 Highlights Deep Disparities in the Global Energy System

Rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system are needed to put the world on a path to a secure and sustainable energy future

Deep disparities define today’s energy world. The dissonance between well-supplied oil markets and growing geopolitical tensions and uncertainties. The gap between the ever-higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions being produced and the insufficiency of stated policies to curb those emissions in line with international climate targets. The gap between the promise of energy for all and the lack of electricity access for 850 million people around the world.

The World Energy Outlook 2019, the International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, explores these widening fractures in detail. It explains the impact of today’s decisions on tomorrow’s energy systems, and describes a pathway that enables the world to meet climate, energy access and air quality goals while maintaining a strong focus on the reliability and affordability of energy for a growing global population.

As ever, decisions made by governments remain critical for the future of the energy system. This is evident in the divergences between WEO scenarios that map out different routes the world could follow over the coming decades, depending on the policies, investments, technologies and other choices that decision makers pursue today. Together, these scenarios seek to address a fundamental issue – how to get from where we are now to where we want to go.

The path the world is on right now is shown by the Current Policies Scenario, which provides a baseline picture of how global energy systems would evolve if governments make no changes to their existing policies. In this scenario, energy demand rises by 1.3% a year to 2040, resulting in strains across all aspects of energy markets and a continued strong upward march in energy-related emissions.

The Stated Policies Scenario, formerly known as the New Policies Scenario, incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets in addition to existing measures. The aim is to hold up a mirror to today’s plans and illustrate their consequences. The future outlined in this scenario is still well off track from the aim of a secure and sustainable energy future. It describes a world in 2040 where hundreds of millions of people still go without access to electricity, where pollution-related premature deaths remain around today’s elevated levels, and where CO2 emissions would lock in severe impacts from climate change.

The Sustainable Development Scenario indicates what needs to be done differently to fully achieve climate and other energy goals that policy makers around the world have set themselves. Achieving this scenario – a path fully aligned with the Paris Agreement aim of holding the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C – requires rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. Sharp emission cuts are achieved thanks to multiple fuels and technologies providing efficient and cost-effective energy services for all.

“What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy. For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policy makers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future.”

In the Stated Policies Scenario, energy demand increases by 1% per year to 2040. Low-carbon sources, led by solar PV, supply more than half of this growth, and natural gas accounts for another third. Oil demand flattens out in the 2030s, and coal use edges lower. Some parts of the energy sector, led by electricity, undergo rapid transformations. Some countries, notably those with “net zero” aspirations, go far in reshaping all aspects of their supply and consumption.

However, the momentum behind clean energy is insufficient to offset the effects of an expanding global economy and growing population. The rise in emissions slows but does not peak before 2040.

Shale output from the United States is set to stay higher for longer than previously projected, reshaping global markets, trade flows and security. In the Stated Policies Scenario, annual U.S. production growth slows from the breakneck pace seen in recent years, but the United States still accounts for 85% of the increase in global oil production to 2030, and for 30% of the increase in gas. By 2025, total U.S. shale output (oil and gas) overtakes total oil and gas production from Russia.

“The shale revolution highlights that rapid change in the energy system is possible when an initial push to develop new technologies is complemented by strong market incentives and large-scale investment,” said Dr. Birol. “The effects have been striking, with U.S. shale now acting as a strong counterweight to efforts to manage oil markets.”

The higher U.S. output pushes down the share of OPEC members and Russia in total oil production, which drops to 47% in 2030, from 55% in the mid-2000s. But whichever pathway the energy system follows, the world is set to rely heavily on oil supply from the Middle East for years to come.

Alongside the immense task of putting emissions on a sustainable trajectory, energy security remains paramount for governments around the globe. Traditional risks have not gone away, and new hazards such as cybersecurity and extreme weather require constant vigilance. Meanwhile, the continued transformation of the electricity sector requires policy makers to move fast to keep pace with technological change and the rising need for the flexible operation of power systems.

“The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is committed to tackling climate change,” said Dr. Birol. “Our Sustainable Development Scenario is tailor-made to help guide the members of such a coalition in their efforts to address the massive climate challenge that faces us all.”

A sharp pick-up in energy efficiency improvements is the element that does the most to bring the world towards the Sustainable Development Scenario. Right now, efficiency improvements are slowing: the 1.2% rate in 2018 is around half the average seen since 2010 and remains far below the 3% rate that would be needed.

Electricity is one of the few energy sources that sees rising consumption over the next two decades in the Sustainable Development Scenario. Electricity’s share of final consumption overtakes that of oil, today’s leader, by 2040. Wind and solar PV provide almost all the increase in electricity generation.

Putting electricity systems on a sustainable path will require more than just adding more renewables. The world also needs to focus on the emissions that are “locked in” to existing systems. Over the past 20 years, Asia has accounted for 90% of all coal-fired capacity built worldwide, and these plants potentially have long operational lifetimes ahead of them. This year’s WEO considers three options to bring down emissions from the existing global coal fleet: to retrofit plants with carbon capture, utilisation and storage or biomass co-firing equipment; to repurpose them to focus on providing system adequacy and flexibility; or to retire them earlier.

Access the 2019 World Energy Outlook report.

About the IEA: The International Energy Agency, the global energy authority, was founded in 1974 to help its member countries co-ordinate a collective response to major oil supply disruptions. Its mission has evolved and rests today on three main pillars: working to ensure global energy security; expanding energy cooperation and dialogue around the world; and promoting an environmentally sustainable energy future.

International Energy Agency Press Office
31-35 Rue de la Fédération, Paris, 75015

Essay 80: Short-Term Energy Outlook

U.S. Energy Information Administration
November 13, 2019 Release


Global liquid fuels
  • Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $60 per barrel (b) in October, down $3/b from September and down $21/b from October 2018. EIA forecasts Brent spot prices will average $60/b in 2020, down from a 2019 average of $64/b. EIA forecasts that West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices will average $5.50/b less than Brent prices in 2020. EIA expects crude oil prices will be lower on average in 2020 than in 2019 because of forecast rising global oil inventories, particularly in the first half of next year.
  • Based on preliminary data and model estimates, EIA estimates that the United States exported 140,000 b/d more total crude oil and petroleum products in September than it imported; total exports exceeded imports by 550,000 b/d in October. If confirmed in survey-collected monthly data, it would be the first time the United States exported more petroleum than it imported since EIA records began in 1949. EIA expects total crude oil and petroleum net exports to average 750,000 b/d in 2020 compared with average net imports of 520,000 b/d in 2019.
  • Distillate fuel inventories (a category that includes home heating oil) in the U.S. East Coast—Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD 1)—totaled 36.6 million barrels at the end of October, which was 30% lower than the five-year (2014–18) average for the end of October. The declining inventories largely reflect low U.S. refinery runs during October and low distillate fuel imports to the East Coast. EIA does not forecast regional distillate prices, but low inventories could put upward pressure on East Coast distillate fuel prices, including home heating oil, in the coming weeks.
  • U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.63 per gallon (gal) in October, up 3 cents/gal from September and 11 cents/gal higher than forecast in last month’s STEO. Average U.S. regular gasoline retail prices were higher than expected, in large part, because of ongoing issues from refinery outages in California. EIA forecasts that regular gasoline prices on the West Coast (PADD 5), a region that includes California, will fall as the issues begin to resolve. EIA expects that prices in the region will average $3.44/gal in November and $3.12/gal in December. For the U.S. national average, EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.65/gal in November and fall to $2.50/gal in December. EIA forecasts that the annual average price in 2020 will be $2.62/gal.
  • Despite low distillate fuel inventories, EIA expects that average household expenditures for home heating oil will decrease this winter. This forecast largely reflects warmer temperatures than last winter for the entire October–March period, and retail heating oil prices are expected to be unchanged compared with last winter. For households that heat with propane, EIA forecasts that expenditures will fall by 15% from last winter because of milder temperatures and lower propane prices.
Natural gas
  • Natural gas storage injections in the United States outpaced the previous five-year (2014–18) average during the 2019 injection season as a result of rising natural gas production. At the beginning of April, when the injection season started, working inventories were 28% lower than the five-year average for the same period. By October 31, U.S. total working gas inventories reached 3,762 billion cubic feet (Bcf), which was 1% higher than the five-year average and 16% higher than a year ago.
  • EIA expects natural gas storage withdrawals to total 1.9 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) between the end of October and the end of March, which is less than the previous five-year average winter withdrawal. A withdrawal of this amount would leave end-of-March inventories at almost 1.9 Tcf, 9% higher than the five-year average.
  • The Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $2.33 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in October, down 23 cents/MMBtu from September. The decline largely reflected strong inventory injections. However, forecast cold temperatures across much of the country caused prices to rise in early November, and EIA forecasts Henry Hub prices to average $2.73/MMBtu for the final two months of 2019. EIA forecasts Henry Hub spot prices to average $2.48/MMBtu in 2020, down 13 cents/MMBtu from the 2019 average. Lower forecast prices in 2020 reflect a decline in U.S. natural gas demand and slowing U.S. natural gas export growth, allowing inventories to remain higher than the five-year average during the year even as natural gas production growth is forecast to slow. 
  • EIA forecasts that annual U.S. dry natural gas production will average 92.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, up 10% from 2018. EIA expects that natural gas production will grow much less in 2020 because of the lag between changes in price and changes in future drilling activity, with low prices in the third quarter of 2019 reducing natural gas-directed drilling in the first half of 2020. EIA forecasts natural gas production in 2020 will average 94.9 Bcf/d.
  • EIA expects U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to average 4.7 Bcf/d in 2019 and 6.4 Bcf/d in 2020 as three new liquefaction projects come online. In 2019, three new liquefaction facilities—Cameron LNG, Freeport LNG, and Elba Island LNG—commissioned their first trains. Natural gas deliveries to LNG projects set a new record in July, averaging 6.0 Bcf/d, and increased further to 6.6 Bcf/d in October, when new trains at Cameron and Freeport began ramping up. Cameron LNG exported its first cargo in May, Corpus Christi LNG’s newly commissioned Train 2 in July, and Freeport in September. Elba Island plans to ship its first export cargo by the end of this year. In 2020, Cameron, Freeport, and Elba Island expect to place their remaining trains in service, bringing the total U.S. LNG export capacity to 8.9 Bcf/d by the end of the year.
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
  • EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants will rise from 34% in 2018 to 37% in 2019 and to 38% in 2020. EIA forecasts the share of U.S. electric generation from coal to average 25% in 2019 and 22% in 2020, down from 28% in 2018. EIA’s forecast nuclear share of U.S. generation remains at about 20% in 2019 and in 2020. Hydropower averages a 7% share of total U.S. generation in the forecast for 2019 and 2020, down from almost 8% in 2018. Wind, solar, and other non-hydropower renewables provided 9% of U.S. total utility-scale generation in 2018. EIA expects they will provide 10% in 2019 and 12% in 2020.
  • EIA expects total U.S. coal production in 2019 to total 698 million short tons (MMst), an 8% decrease from the 2018 level of 756 MMst. The decline reflects lower demand for coal in the U.S. electric power sector and reduced competitiveness of U.S. exports in the global market. EIA expects U.S. steam coal exports to face increasing competition from Eastern European sources, and that Russia will fill a growing share of steam coal trade, causing U.S. coal exports to fall in 2020. EIA forecasts that coal production in 2020 will total 607 MMst.
  • EIA expects U.S. electric power sector generation from renewables other than hydropower—principally wind and solar—to grow from 408 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2019 to 466 billion kWh in 2020. In EIA’s forecast, Texas accounts for 19% of the U.S. non-hydropower renewables generation in 2019 and 22% in 2020. California’s forecast share of non-hydropower renewables generation falls from 15% in 2019 to 14% in 2020. EIA expects that the Midwest and Central power regions will see shares in the 16% to 18% range for 2019 and 2020.
  • EIA forecasts that, after rising by 2.7% in 2018, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decline by 1.7% in 2019 and by 2.0% in 2020, partially as a result of lower forecast energy consumption. In 2019, EIA forecasts less demand for space cooling because of cooler summer months; an expected 5% decline in cooling degree days from 2018, when it was significantly higher than the previous 10-year (2008–17) average. In addition, EIA also expects U.S. CO2 emissions in 2019 to decline because the forecast share of electricity generated from natural gas and renewables will increase, and the share generated from coal, which is a more carbon-intensive energy source, will decrease.

Essay 39: Movies as a “Parachute” or Backdoor Into the Field of Economics

Here’s a second example of using movies to “sneak up on” a field such as economics.

Think of the movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from 1948, a Humphrey Bogart classic:

In 1925, in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), two unemployed American drifters, survive by bumming for spare change. They are recruited by an American labor contractor, Pat McCormick (Barton MacLane), as roughnecks to construct oil rigs for $8 a day.  When the project is completed, McCormick skips out without paying the men.

Returning to Tampico, the two vagrants encounter the grizzled prospector Howard (Walter Huston) in a flophouse. The loquacious and penniless ex-miner holds forth on the virtues of gold prospecting and the perils of striking it rich. The two younger men feel the lure of gold and contemplate its risks. Dobbs and Curtin run into McCormick at a cantina, and after a desperate bar fight, they collect their back wages in cash. When Dobbs wins a small jackpot in the lottery, he pools his funds with Curtin and Howard to finance a gold prospecting journey to the Mexican interior.

The flophouse mentioned above (“Oso negro”) has a quick scene which is a marvelous “parachute” into economics:  a group of men begin to reflect on why gold is so expensive while the basics of life like water or air are not.  Howard (their “cracker barrel philosopher-sage,” played by Walter Huston) explains that a thousand men set out to find gold.  999 of the men fail to find any, one finds some.  The price of gold has to reflect the costs of finding it (i.e., men, equipment, time, effort, opportunity costs, risks, danger, etc.) by all thousand and include the 999 failures and not just the one success.  This is an example, albeit primitive, of something like the labor-theory of value explored by Ricardo and then Marx:

Labor theory of value

The labor theory of value (LTV) is a heterodox theory of value that argues that the economic value of a good or service is determined by the total amount of “socially necessary labor” required to produce it. … Marx did not refer to his own theory of value as a “labor theory of value.

Again, using this movie as a charming or enchanting “jumping off place,” you would begin to “dive into” those pages of the textbook that are relevant, much as you’d use a dictionary to look up some words. You then read towards the front and the back of the textbook, coming at it your own way, mindful of these questions of yours which begin to give the field a “shape.” You could do the “standard slog” through the textbook, none of which you remember three days after the course because nothing was based on your own “enchanted” searching and exploring.

Lastly, the author of the original 1927 novel, on which the movie is based, B. Traven was a German anarchist and he may have analyzed the world and its prices and costs (i.e., economics) like Howard in the movie.  This too is itself another “pathway” into economics, a biographical one.