Explaining all the nutty conspiracy theories about oil

The Washington Post has a good explanation why so many leaders — including Vladimir Putin — might believe that other players are conspiring to set oil prices low, putting pressure on nations like Russia that rely so much on the high price of oil to balance their budgets.

To understand this particular conspiracy theory, one must look at the nature of conspiracy theorists, and here WaPo cites some knowledgeable experts on the subject:

… the psychological research suggests that conspiracists don’t just believe one conspiracy theory. They often believe lots of them. And many of the conspiracies have similar structures — suggesting there are deeply powerful but unseen players working behind the scenes to shape world events.

“A lot of conspiracy theories take as their premise that there’s a small group of people who are plotting to control something, to control the government, the banking system, or the main energy source, and they are doing this to the disadvantage of everybody else,” says University of California-Davis historian Kathy Olmsted, author of “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11.”

It might be natural for some people to believe in oil conspiracies, because oil itself is so vital a commodity around the world, and oil producers — notably OPEC — do, in fact, collude to keep their prices at a certain level. That’s the reason they formed the cartel in the first place.

But another motivator is that “struggling leaders need somebody to blame.”

In Putin’s case, finally, we must recognize that a conspiracy theory like the one above is politically expedient — especially in newly perilous economic times. “Governments use conspiracy theories in order to convince their people to support them,” says [University of Utah history professor Robert Alan] Goldberg. There’s no better way to rally support than to suggest to your people that outside forces — not supply and demand, but malicious schemers — are out to get them.