Op-ed writer of the New York Times Thomas Friedman has spent the last several months on book leave, but returns today with a zinger of a piece, "Dumb As We Wanna Be." Yes, the topic is a familiar one:
Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.I never tire of Friedman's harping on this topic, because he is consistently correct: he was right about this when oil was at $10 a barrel, and he's still right now that is is at over $115/bbl.
When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.
In the May issue of Harper's Magazine, Wendell Berry's "Faustian Economics" touches on the American notion of "limitless" resources:
The entire contraption of "Unbridled Energy" [title of a conference on coal resources] is supported only by a rote optimism: "The United States has 250 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves - enough to last 100 years even at double the current rate of consumption." We humans have inhabited the earth for many thousands of years, and now we can look forward to surviving for another hundred by doubling our consumption of coal? This is national security?Berry goes on to speculate whether this American notion of limitlessness "perhaps arose from the coincidence of the Industrial Revolution with the suddenly exploitable resources of the New World." Whatever the genesis of this type of conspicuous consumption, even climate deniers and Fortress Americans must be starting to doubt its "sustainability?"
The Bonus, the Malus, and the Horribilis
Contrast the picayune savings that the McCain/Clinton suspension of the 18.4 cents a gallon tax could mean to drivers, compared with the huge profits accruing to oil companies and Gulf kingdom exporters. Contrast the American timidity on facing down the automobile and oil industries with a recent French innovation from a conservative, free market President, Nicolas Sarkozy: the "bonus/malus" system at point-of-purchase.
The French system, in effect since the beginning of the year, is by no means perfect, but it does recognize this: giving a "bonus" or tax refund for the purchase of an energy-efficient car will encourage more French drivers to buy same, as paying a "malus" or tax penalty for a gas-guzzler will discourage their purchase.
Instead of "pandering," as Friedman says, to Americans, politicians should show some leadership. But "we are in the midst of a national political brownout," he concludes. Spoiled by years of cheap gasoline with an already minimal tax (compare the 18 cent American excise tax, on gasoline that is now at $4.00 a gallon, with a French gas tax that is three quarters of the pump price of 1.384 € /liter (or a whopping $8.22 per gallon).
Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I leave you, thanks to Chevrolet - who is to be congratulated for marketing small (South Korean-made?) Chevvies in Europe - pictures of Chevrolets available in Europe, and a Chevy SUV for the American market. It's a bit analogous to the size of a croissant bought at a French cafe and one from your local donut shop. I could also post a picture of the typical French waistline compared to the US variety, but I won't...
The SUV pictured here is the Tahoe, which is a hybrid, you'll be happy to know. Personally, I would rather wait until GM puts out a Hybrid Hummer. Really, what's the point? You produce a vehicle that gets the worst gas mileage in the world, then you "improve" its "energy efficiency" by making a hybrid model?
By the way, the Chevrolet Belgium website (link below) advertising campaign shows a small Chevy next to a massive one, with the caption "Get Real."
(Photo source: Chevrolet)