The Connection Between Oil Prices, Debt Levels, and Interest Rates

If oil is “just another commodity,” then there shouldn’t be any connection between oil prices, debt levels, interest rates, and total rates of return. But there clearly is a connection.

On one hand, spikes in oil prices are connected with recessions. According to economist James Hamilton, ten out of eleven post-World War II recessions have been associated with spikes in oil prices. There also is a logical reason for oil prices spikes to be associated with recession: oil is used in making and transporting food, and in commuting to work. These are necessities for most people. If these costs rise, there is a need to cut back on non-essential goods, leading to layoffs in discretionary sectors, and thus recession.

On the other hand, the manipulation of interest rates and the addition of governmental debt (by spending more than is collected in tax dollars) are the primary ways of “fixing” recession. According to Keynesian economics, output is strongly influenced by aggregate demand–in other words, total spending in the economy. Any approach that can increase total spending–either more debt, or more affordable debt will increase economic output.

What is the Direct Connection Between Increased Debt and Oil Prices?

The economy doesn’t just grow by itself (contrary to the belief of many economists). It grows because affordable energy products allow raw materials to be transformed into finished products. Increased debt helps energy products become more affordable.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Without debt, not a very large share of the total population could afford a car or a new home. In fact, most businesses could not afford new factories, without debt. The price of commodities of all sorts would drop off dramatically without the availability of debt, because there would be less demand for the commodities that are used to make goods. Continue reading