Charles Morris predicts going “back to the future,” with shale gas fueling our way

In his new book, Comeback: America’s New Economic Boom, Charles Morris, a born-again optimist who predicted the financial industry’s implosion three years before it happened, refuses pessimistic notions of America’s economic decline and points instead to evidence of long-term growth prospects for the country.

“It’s the best-kept secret in the economic media,” as Morris said in a recent interview on the PBS NewsHour, “the United States is on the brink of a period of solid, long-term growth rivaling that of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Morris says the new economy will be “durably grounded in energy and heavy manufacturing.” Citing an Oil and Gas Journal survey, he told PBS that natural gas and oil industry investments will total $348 billion in 2013, equivalent to about 2 percent of GDP, and the U.S. has far greater recoverable reserves than previously announced.

“The collateral job creation is even more important, and it’s just getting underway,” fueled by inexpensive supplies of natural gas from shale that especially benefit the chemical industry, Morris emphasized, adding:

Natural gas is an ideal ‘cracking’ fuel, generating the intense heat needed to break up and rearrange molecules to make usable chemicals. But it is also the raw material for plastics, Styrofoam, tires, sealants, adhesives, films, liquid crystal screens, nylons, polyesters — nearly everything around us.

A recent report by the American Chemistry Council underscores Morris’ anecdotal evidence about the promise of a chemical industry renaissance fueled by shale gas. The ACC report examined 97 announced chemical and plastics projects totaling $71.7 billion in potential new U.S. investment.

By 2020, the projects could create 46,000 chemical industry jobs, another 264,000 jobs in supplier industries and 226,000 ‘payroll induced’ jobs in communities where workers spend their wages, generating $20 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. Nearly 1.2 million additional, temporary jobs will be created during the capital investment phase that occurs between 2010 and 2020.

Half of the announced investments are from firms based outside the U.S., proof of the U.S. chemical industry’s competitive edge in the global marketplace.

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