Bin Laden Dead: What it Means for Gas and Your Family

Last Updated May 4, 2011 12:24 PM EDT

I'm no oil expert. Ditto gold. Terrorism isn't my thing. Any serious discussion of geopolitics is probably best left to others. Yet these are topics of the moment and as a Dad concerned for his family's physical and financial well being I have to try to sort them out. So here goes.

Just about everyone writing and speaking on Osama bin Laden's death, including President Obama, takes pains to remind us that he was just one man; that al-Qaeda lives on and that the evil world still threatens us around every corner.

OK. That has to be said, and of course it is true in the near term. We may even face elevated levels of threat in coming weeks and months as the bad guys try to retaliate. Living in New York, I take that seriously. With a wife who travels internationally for work, I take that seriously. With a daughter studying abroad, I take that seriously. I've asked my family to be more aware of what's going on around them; to stay close to friends and associates in public places and to be ready to act if something seems askew. If it turns out to be nothing, I'll laugh with them later.

Despite these near-term worries, though, it seems to me that with the Wicked Witch dead Dorothy and Toto are now free to find their way back to Kansas. My colleague and editor, Eric Schurenberg, makes the point that Brand USA just got a badly needed facelift. That bodes well for confidence, which might boost the dollar, forestall inflation and slow the relentless rise of gold.

I think bin Laden's death just might work wonders on gas prices too. So instead of the highly anticipated move to $5-a-gallon gas this summer maybe we have $4 gas or even lower. Warning: that is a seriously contrary thought. Most pundits see little connection between bin Laden's death and the price of a barrel of crude. Demand from China is the real story.

Certainly, China is a big part of the oil equation. But that country's torrid growth rate and oil needs were factored into oil prices well before the latest spike, which was driven by unrest in the Middle East and speculation on Wall Street that production was in increasing jeopardy. Part of what drove that thinking was the long-standing inability of countries like the U.S. to bring any sense of order to a troubled part of the world and its often out-of-control oil-rich despots like Muammar el-Qaddafi. It did, after all, take almost 10 years and billions of dollars to find the world's most dangerous man.

But now that bin Laden is dead, taken out -- unarmed, but who cares? -- by an expertly planned Navy Seal operation, the world (which, sigh, includes Wall Street) has reason to believe that maybe the West really can help bring order to the region -- at least enough order to erase some of the worries of runaway oil.

Indeed, oil prices have already edged lower. "The hit on Osama bin Laden might hasten the day that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is forced to depart from Libya dead or alive," writes the economist Ed Yardeni. "If Qaddafi goes on his own or in a body bag, the price of oil could drop further."

Yardeni says that would be bullish for the stock market and all kinds of consumer goods as folks with lower energy costs have money to spend at the store. Wonderful. Rising stocks and lower energy costs are bullish for my family's financial security. But the real plum is the U.S.'s rehabbed image as a global cop that can get the bad guy. Long term, anyway, that is bullish for our physical security.

Photo courtesy Flickr user iskur
More on MoneyWatch:
· Bin Laden, Terrorism, and the Economy
· Bin Laden's Death: Is Your Money Safer Now?
· Osama bin Laden Dead: US Stocks Edge Lower
  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.