I am making a presentation to a group of retired UND faculty this morning on the topic of oil and the North Dakota economy. It is more of a free-flowing discussion than a chalk-and-talk format so I will add interesting comments later after I hear them. Oil is clearly a transformative event in the North Dakota economy. We can have an argument about the relative importance of different sectors all we want, but the emergence of the energy economy was an enormous factor in the early 2000s. Looking at the graph below I make the following observation: we are at the end of the first boom-bust cycle in the oil industry in North Dakota. That’s all this is. We have not run out of oil and it is not, at least yet, an industry regulated out of existence.
JT tends to ask me the following question: “What worries me about the outlook for ND?” Over the last few years I answered that there was not much. That was then, this is now. North Dakota hit its first oil price catastrophe for this round of the oil boom and we are watching to see the consequences. One of the issues that worries me has to do with the demographics for the state as a whole. In this piece I will focus on the 65-and-over population and later on we can talk about other dimensions.
The recent drops and volatility in commodities markets, particularly oil, are well-known. One of the big ongoing questions for the state of North Dakota is the impact on the state economy of these new developments in oil. We have seen that oil and gas output is not necessarily suffering with the price decreases or volatility. So where are the effects? You might expect to see it in a graph of labor force, like this:
Recently I visited New York City and had occasion to talk with some people about the situation with oil in North Dakota. The question on their mind has to do with the continued high level of oil production despite the decreased price. Rather than total amount of oil produced, or barrels per day, let’s consider a different measurement, the amount of oil per rig.
Lately my thoughts turn to public finances in North Dakota. In particular I am thinking about the status of public pensions in North Dakota, both on their own terms and compared to other places. One of the things you need to consider when discussing an issue like pensions is the general financial context of the state and its expenditures. Detroit was only an issue when they were not able to pay for, well, anything and then needed to default. My home state of Illinois finds itself in a situation similar to this currently. The following graph compares the North Dakota and US shares of general expenditures in twelve different categories.