The good times have gone
Not only western governments are worried by the oil price. Oil wealth has left Arabian Gulf countries ill-equipped to develop dynamic economies that can cope with the needs of growing populations. Abu Dhabi is aware of the dangers of this inertia but Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah is the man doing most to change attitudes and structures. Michael Field reports
The price of crude oil has gone through $30 a barrel this year but being a Saudi or a Kuwaiti today feels very different from the way it did when oil was last at this level 15 years ago. In the 1970s and early 1980s the Arabs of the Gulf were rich and confident, now they are worried. As Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has put it in his new, blunt style: "The good times have gone and they will not return".
In terms of its buying power, wealth is just not at the same staggering levels. On revenues of perhaps $68 billion this year it would take Saudi Arabia 180 years to buy all the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and 40 years to buy those on the London Stock Exchange. In 1974, immediately after the first big Opec price rise, it was calculated that Saudi revenues - then $29 billion - could have bought New York in 19 years and London in 23 months.