Thursday, January 12, 2006

The New Red, White and Blue - New York Times

The New Red, White and Blue - New York Times

Friedman hits it on the head again...

What's so disturbing about President Bush and Dick Cheney is that they talk tough about the necessity of invading Iraq, torturing terror suspects and engaging in domestic spying - all to defend our way of life and promote democracy around the globe.

But when it comes to what is actually the most important issue in U.S. foreign and domestic policy today - making ourselves energy efficient and independent, and environmentally green - they ridicule it as something only liberals, tree-huggers and sissies believe is possible or necessary.

Sorry, but being green, focusing the nation on greater energy efficiency and conservation, is not some girlie-man issue. It is actually the most tough-minded, geostrategic, pro-growth and patriotic thing we can do.
The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism. It's petrolism. Petrolism is my term for the corrupting, antidemocratic governing practices - in oil states from Russia to Nigeria and Iran...

In petrolist states like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Sudan, people get rich by being in government and sucking the treasury dry - so they never want to cede power. In non-petrolist states, like Taiwan, Singapore and Korea, people get rich by staying outside government and building real businesses.
No matter what happens in Iraq, we cannot dry up the swamps of authoritarianism and violent Islamism in the Middle East without also drying up our consumption of oil - thereby bringing down the price of crude. A democratization policy in the Middle East without a different energy policy at home is a waste of time, money and, most important, the lives of our young people.
That's because there is a huge difference in what these bad regimes can do with $20-a-barrel oil compared with the current $60-a-barrel oil. It is no accident that the reform era in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, and in Iran under Mohammad Khatami, coincided with low oil prices. When prices soared again, petrolist authoritarians in both societies reasserted themselves.

We need a president and a Congress with the guts not just to invade Iraq, but to also impose a gasoline tax and inspire conservation at home. That takes a real energy policy with long-term incentives for renewable energy - wind, solar, biofuels - rather than the welfare-for-oil-companies-and-special-interests that masqueraded last year as an energy bill.

I couldn't have said it better myself.


Intellectual Insurgent said...

Friedman has been offering a great deal of clarity lately.

Croaky said...

Good post.

I'm not sure I quite understand Friedman's definition of "petrolism," but I do agree that the "oil problem" is a Top Five problem when it comes to issues facing America, and it is probably near the top of the list. Perhaps I am being nitpicky, but I didn't think his inclusion of "authoritarianism" as less important was a prudent choice. It seems like many of the worst problems in the world right now: terrorism, AIDS in Africa, energy and the environment, and educational inequality are all related in one way or another to exclusion of the average individual. "Authoritarianism" can apply from anything to a too-powerful government (Saudi Arabia or even America, as some would argue) to too-concentrated industries like the current media as well as the technology industry (Microsoft) as of just a few years ago.

I liked what Friedman was saying about the incentives not being there for people not wanting to cede power due to their economic, and in this case, oil interests. But I think that is just the current example of authoritarianism.

The more power and ownership individuals have over their world as well as the more individuals that have that power, the better the social and economic results will be. I look at open source software in this way. I look at democracy in this way. I look at the freedoms of free speech, free assembly, free protest that way.

Reign of Reason said...

I agree croaky... I think Freidman's petrolism and authoritarianism go hand-in-hand: one just being a very specific case of the other…

As for freedoms – I also couldn’t agree more. However I do feel there is a role for government: as a safety net.

Capitalism and free markets necessarily create winners and losers. Losers aren’t necessarily ‘lazy’ – so people need a safety net to help them get back in the game. There are also a ton of other factors that go into free markets (e.g. – access to education, $$$, etc.)

Of course, the pendulum can swing too far and we can foster ‘laziness’. However, trying to level the economic and social playing ground should be one of the functions of government.