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Maybe A Little Less Dictatorship In Our Tanks

Here’s a seemingly obscure bureaucratic decision that could have big moral implications. Yesterday the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) released a long awaited (or delayed) decision saying publicly traded oil companies must reveal their spending on foreign projects, forbidding some of the secrecy that has fostered the corruption and undemocratic governments that plague oil producing countries.  For a breakdown of the issues, see this article from the Houston Chronicle, which mentions that the SEC believes that the oil companies will spend $1 billion complying the first year and hundreds of millions in later years. The benefit, though, is that the US stock exchange will no longer be complicit in keeping oil payments secret from the citizens of the countries that sell us oil. US taxpayers and oil consumers have long been in a double bind: We effectively bankroll both official “democracy initiatives” in oil producing countries, along with a sort of shadow foreign policy run by oil companies which has the precise opposite effect of keeping whoever’s in power in power. And, to top off the perversity, we pay a sort of anti-democracy dividend every time we fill our gas tanks. The American Petroleum Institute predictably claims that this rule will make it harder for American companies to compete because Russian and Chinese companies don't have to disclose their payments to the rulers of oil producing countries. The SEC decision, whatever its ultimate effect, has taken the stance that US companies should not compete by being more Russian or Chinese, but by being more ourselves--more American--and supporting transparency.