Midas, King of Phrygia, the tale from ancient Greece goes, turned everything he touched into gold. This was no blessing, since Midas starved to death — you can’t eat a medium of exchange. And a store of abstract value is of little use in meeting basic biological needs. Till recently, the parable was widely thought to be a cautionary tale about greed and chasing wealth. Turns out, it might have been a prophetic allegory about the coronavirus pandemic, or even the need for a balanced economic diet.
The price of (crude) oil — “black gold”, people unoriginally call it — has dropped to below -$40/barrel on Monday in the US. And the price of Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, traded below $20/barrel on Tuesday, approximately two-thirds lower than it was in January before the outbreak of COVID-19. In the US, producers are paying consumers to take the slick off their hands. Oil isn’t worth the barrel it comes in. This is, of course, an economic disruption, an over-supply problem that could wreak Midas-level havoc on the economy. But, till that happens, for those who can, there are ways to make the best of a bad deal.
Companies and nations with the deep pockets and reservoirs of hope that the “fundamentals of the global economy are strong” could simply get paid to take care of the surplus. Imagine, if you will, the electoral success for the government that hands out free fuel ahead of the first post-corona poll. For individuals, too, hoarding is an option. The downside is that a favourite topic of small talk may be denied to people, who, stuck at home already, have little of interest to report on awkward video chats with long-lost friends. There’s no more discussing how expensive petrol has become. But perhaps the money they are saving thanks to a crash in fuel prices could be used to douse the many sorrows of isolation, and invest in a conversational lubricant. It’s now cheaper to buy a beer.
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