The PJ Tatler

Tom Friedman: Tax, baby, tax!

Tom Friedman proves once again just how skilled he is at wasting NYT editorial page real estate. With unrest engulfing the Middle East and with oil prices already threatening to reach historic highs, Friedman wants to jack up your gas taxes. By a lot.

No one is rooting harder for the democracy movements in the Arab world to succeed than I am. But even if things go well, this will be a long and rocky road. The smart thing for us to do right now is to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, to be phased in at 5 cents a month beginning in 2012, with all the money going to pay down the deficit. Legislating a higher energy price today that takes effect in the future, notes the Princeton economist Alan Blinder, would trigger a shift in buying and investment well before the tax kicks in. With one little gasoline tax, we can make ourselves more economically and strategically secure, help sell more Chevy Volts and free ourselves to openly push for democratic values in the Middle East without worrying anymore that it will harm our oil interests. Yes, it will mean higher gas prices, but prices are going up anyway, folks. Let’s capture some it for ourselves.

Cranking up the price of gas a nickel a month for 20 straight months, while the world is out there hiking the price even more, won’t do much for the struggling economy, to say the least.

I’m feeling a little ill today so I don’t have the energy or, frankly, interest to unpack and slaughter Freidman’s entire column, most of which consists of unoriginal recitations of recent Middle Eastern history. Oh, he converts the countries there to gas stations. Brilliant!

But that bit about the Chevy Volt: How on earth does Friedman think Volts get their power? It’s not from the expelled gases of unicorns, friend. Volts are powered by either coal, or natural gas, or nuclear, or plain old oil. The Volt itself burns gas once you’ve gone past 40 miles. All that moving everyone over to Volts and Priuses and so forth would do is shift the economics a bit from the pump to the plant, while the Friedman tax would start sabotaging the economy just in time for the 2012 elections (yeah, that one consequence might not be so bad). And we don’t yet have the infrastructure to support a nation of plug-in cars anyway.Who’s gonna pay to build that? Not Tom’s tax — he’d use that to pay down the deficit.

As long as we’re not drilling more domestically or building new nuke plants, neither of which Friedman calls for, we’re not really solving the problem of dependency on foreign oil. That solution includes the thing Amy Holmes called for this morning, and the thing Andrea Tantaros also called for this morning, the thing the Friedmans of the world won’t countenance: Drill, baby, drill! Not tax, baby, tax!