Friedman asks: Are we really that tough a people? I mean really tough? If we were, we'd tax gasoline much more, build many more nuclear power plants (like France), and store waste deep in Yucca Mountain, which is totally safe -- all with the goal of causing, basically, a paradigm shift in the nation's energy policy -- one that would mean substantially less oil consumption.
Can the U.S. Seize the Higher Ground?
Doing the above will represent a move the United States has not made in a long time: seizing the higher ground, in Friedman's interpretation. Further, given projected oil consumption increases in emerging markets in the decade ahead, and given other economic development factors, he who produces oil and doesn't use much of it will be in the catbird seat: and based on current trends, it looks like Russia and Iran and other nations in the Middle East will have the higher ground. And lately, if looks like that higher ground could get even higher: oil in late December again pushed $100 per barrel.
Friedman said if he had the money from an additional $1 per gallon tax on gasoline, he'd use 45 percent of it to pay down the budget deficit, 45 percent to pay for new health care, 10 percent to cushion the burden the tax would put place on the poor and those who need to drive long distances. That's sensible. Rational. And it would represent a civilizational advance for the United States, according to my analysis.
The Key: Energy Efficiency, and Lower Oil Consumption
To be sure, the view from here is not one that argues against U.S.-based oil drilling: more should and will occur, it's just that there's overwhelming evidence - unless tens of Americans suddenly switch to horseback -- that domestic drilling alone will not eliminate the U.S.'s imported oil bill: conservation and drilling will.
By implementing Friedman's idea, the deficit would drop substantially, the renewable energy industry would be stimulated, the dollar would strength, the environment would be cleaner, and U.S. corporations would be stronger international competitors, as a result of decreased health care costs.
Essentially, Friedman succinctly described the benefits of a mandated shift away from oil and gasoline use. One critique: Yucca Mountain is safe, but the view from here argues that a nuclear fuel reprocessing center like France's COGEMA La Hague site would represent a better option.
A gas tax is a step in the correct direction, but don't look for a gas tax increase anytime soon: with Republicans controlling the U.S. House and with the GOP having a filibuster-safe minority in the Senate, it's a non-starter in this U.S. Congress. The paradigm shift will have to wait-out one more election cycle.