Speaking Truth to Friedman


America’s “#2 most influential business thinker”(The Wall Street Journal tells us), green scold Thomas Friedman, proposes in his New York Times column today how a model presidential candidate — a “truth-telling candidate” — might tell the “real truth” about the best “energy policy for the long-term economic health and security of our country.”


Not surprisingly, Friedman falls well short of candor. The highlights:


Friedman: “Reckless initiatives like the Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep offer to subsidize gasoline for three years for people who buy its gas guzzlers are the moral equivalent of tobacco companies offering discounted cigarettes to teenagers.”


Truth: Never mind the cheap, moral equivalence demagoguery. Chrysler is marketing fuel discounts on SUVs to move slow-selling merchandise off their shelves. Period. Would Friedman prefer that this struggling American company sit on its inventory and take losses instead? Without moving product, how does Friedman propose Chrysler make money to invest in more fuel-efficient technologies?


Friedman: “This candidate would note that $4-a-gallon gasoline is really starting to impact driving behavior and buying behavior in way that $3-a-gallon gas did not. The first time we got such a strong price signal, after the 1973 oil shock, we responded as a country by demanding and producing more fuel-efficient cars.”


Truth: The Times columnist stumbles on the truth for a brief, shining moment: Market forces, not government mandates, determine consumer behavior. Unfortunately, this contradicts Friedman himself who has long argued that government mpg mandates are a key to forcing consumers into small cars – historical evidence to the contrary. 


Friedman: “What our mythical candidate would be proposing . . . is a “price floor” for gasoline: $4 a gallon, which is still half the going rate in Europe today. Washington would declare that it would never let the price fall below that level. If it does, it would increase the federal gasoline tax on a monthly basis to make up the difference between the pump price and the market price. To ease the burden on the less well-off, anyone earning under $80,000 a year would be compensated with a reduction in the payroll taxes.”


Truth:  Europhiles like Friedman resent the low-cost energy, low-regulation structure that has made the U.S. the world’s economic engine. If he were serious about advocating the stick of a consumption tax, he would offer the carrot of eliminating, say, the income tax. Only then might he expand beyond his Bethesda Country Club bridge group and craft a viable, bipartisan solution.


Friedman: “I was visiting my local Toyota dealer in Bethesda, Md., last week to trade in one hybrid car for another. There is now a two-month wait to buy a Prius, which gets close to 50 miles per gallon. But if it were not a hybrid, he said, he would deduct each day $200 from the trade-in price for every $1-a-barrel increase in the OPEC price of crude oil. When I saw the rows and rows of unsold S.U.V.’s parked in his lot, I understood why.”


Truth: Remember when libs cared about American jobs? Profit on SUVs (including those made by “green” Toyota) are $7,000 per vehicle, while small sedans like the Prius make $1,500 if they make money at all. That means that – in Friedman’s high-tax, small car world — more plants will be shipped to Mexico and China so that automakers can increase margins.


Friedman: “We need to make a structural shift in our energy economy. Ultimately, we need to move our entire fleet to plug-in electric cars. The only way to get from here to there is to start now with a price signal that will force the change.”


Truth: Friedman’s beloved high-tax Europe made that “structural shift” decades ago. Today, it is still 90 percent dependent on Mideast oil with no alternative in sight. Direct-injection diesels (which get better mileage than Friedman’s Prius) are the Euro car of choice. Plug-ins have potential, but only if battery technology improves — and if the U.S. is willing to subtantially expand its electricity grid with the coal and nuke plants necessary to meet the added load.


In the end, of course, what is most cynical about Friedman’s “truth-telling” is his convenient focus on cars. Presumably because the columnist can preen about his green Prius. But why not an “energy policy” that taxes home size? Or residences in “suburban sprawl?” Maybe because that would discriminate against Friedman’s piggish, energy-guzzling11,400-square-foot mansion in Bethesda. Or why not tax frequent flyers for using 1,000-gallon-an-hour airplanes? Maybe because Friedman is constantly crisscrossing the globe telling others how to live more austere, carbon-free lives.


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