Nine essays in this volume derive from a 1992 conference at the University of Texas at Austin analyzing specific major oil-producing countries, mostly in the Middle East. The essays on Kuwait, Iran, and the Caspian Sea countries are about the countries' oil industry; those on Iraq, Algeria, and the GCC deal with overall economic development and its political impact.
The contributors are caught in the past, when oil price and volume were dictated by cartels of powerful companies (the Seven Sisters) or powerful states (OPEC). In their introduction, they argue that at present, world oil is under a "Saudi-American regime" that has replaced OPEC. Three essays (by Giacomo Luciani, Ian Skeet, and Keith Brown and Robert Semmens) speculate that the future may see a return to an "oligopoly of vertically integrated companies" like the Seven Sisters; another (Odell) argues regional blocs will replace a world oil market.
Editors and authors alike seem to have missed the sea change in the oil industry toward the free market. Prodded by the U.S. deregulation of its energy industries and spurred on by European Union actions in the same direction (with Britain in the lead), sophisticated investors have created multibillion-dollar spot and futures markets in which anonymous forces of supply and demand determine oil prices. The growing strength of markets also shows up on the oil supply side, where decisions about investment increasingly are made based on market criteria rather than politicial influences. The effect has been to stabilize the world oil market: within five months, it absorbed the loss of Iraq's production and return to pre-crisis prices; in contrast, a similar-sized drop in Iran's production after the 1979 revolution kept prices high for five years.