The biggest losers in this arrangement are the individual members of societies that live under these petro-regimes. Some of them may live comfortably, relative to global standards, but they live empty lives nonetheless.
Saudi Arabia and the gulf states would be nothing but the arid hinterland of a dramatically different Middle East. Whatever regime that ruled Iran would be a much more accountable one since it would depend so much more on Iranian society for its wealth as opposed to oil wells. Hugo Chavez would not exist, and the Russian state might have been forced to cave into the demands of Russian society. All of these realities may have been realized had the developed world not depended so critically on oil.
What reassures me though is evidence that this oil bonanza is only short lived.
Exxon Mobil's CEO recently claimed that he expected the demand for gasoline in the United States to decrease in the coming 25 years as a result of increased levels of efficiency. Technologies that convert coal to oil are beginning to get the kind of attention they deserve, and the money they need to become more economically feasible. Other technologies that convert oil shale to oil are also gaining prominence (the United States has the largest reserves of both oil shale and coal in the world).
All of these improvements and more will take years to yield any sort of tangible results. However, investors are already making decisions based on oil prices of $40/barrel, and prices have declined steadily over the past two weeks, to the dismay of some who wish for pertpetually high prices. And despite all the talk of unyielding competition between the United States and China, both powers have at least one common interest that they work in concert to realize: cheap energy for their growing economies.
The ultimate outcome is becoming clearer for all to see: oil prices will ultimately plummet. The petro-regimes that will survive relatively unscathed are those that are currently investing their windfall profits in non-oil related sectors of their economies. The petro-regimes that will crash and burn are those that are burning their petro-dollars in misguided dreams of regional military domination and economically unsustainable policies of buying popular approval.
Do I see the end of petro-regimes on earth? No. Especially in the short run, during which oil prices will remain volatile thanks to environmental and political factors. However, in the long run, I am beginning to see a clear and indisputable emerging reality that is very unfriendly to such regimes. I only hope is that this reality manifests itself sooner rather than later - i.e. in five, as opposed to ten or twenty five years.