A New Mission for America

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• The average worker in America earns $21 per hour. In China, the average man gets 61 cents for his hour’s work. A great leveling has begun. We wait to see how far it will go and how long it will go on.

• Some people will do anything to get into public office. Eliot Spritzer has been putting people in jail. At least now he’s admitted why he was doing it; yesterday he announced his bid for governor of New York. We hope the rascal gets what he deserves.

• And here’s our favorite columnist, writing in the International Herald Tribune. “A new mission for America,” proposes Thomas L. Friedman.

Friedman seems to have given up on his last great mission — invading Iraq. The troops, he told us, were doing a marvelous job of “nurturing” democracy. But the “non-healing” Bush administration bungled the job, he believes. Now, the world improver offers us a new purpose…a Great Cause as grandiose as it is imbecilic: Energy independence!

“Imagine if every American kid, in every school, were galvanized around such a vision [making America energy independent in 10 years]…” he writes.

We shudder. Surely one or two kids could galvanize themselves around some other vision — say, winning the state spelling bee…or building a fort in the backyard…or even some other world-improving vision, such as teaching everyone to speak Esperanto…or making the U.S. independent in avocados.

World improvers are always looking for an excuse to boss and bully. Mr. Friedman’s particular contribution to the genre is a certain comic absurdity that leaves the reader gasping for air.

“He must be an embarrassment to the newspaper,” said an acquaintance this morning. “But he writes for The New York Times and represents the middle-brow Jewish market, which must be a big part of the paper’s readership. That must be why they keep him on…either that, or he’s got photos of the publisher in a compromising position.”

Mr. Friedman’s latest column tells us that oil revenues are practically the root of all evil. Take away the oil revenue, says he, and “I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran.” We do not doubt that lower oil prices would shake things up in oil producing countries; but we have no reason to think that anyone would be better off as a result. For there is no reason to think that oil revenues lead to badness, nor that the lack of oil revenue leads to goodness. Texas was an oil exporter for most of the 20th century; we do not recall that the state was any worse or better than New Jersey, which imported oil. Nor can we recall any great reforms in Texas after the oil revenues dried up. Britain gained billions in oil revenue after the North Sea fields were exploited; we don’t recall any horrible consequences. Now, Britain’s income from selling oil is coming to an end. What great reforms can we expect? Nor did North Korea become North Korea because of $45 oil. Or Iraq…or Afghanistan or Venezuela…or Zimbabwe. Nor did oil revenues finance the Hitler youth…Yes, the oil industry did wonders for Saudi Arabia and the Bush family…but what conclusion can we draw from that?

We don’t know, but to hear Friedman tell it, energy independence is the ticket to Eden:

“If Bush made energy independence his moon shot, he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform — which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil — strengthen the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by doing something huge to reduce global warming. He would also create a magnet to inspire young people to contribute to the war on terrorism and America’s future by becoming scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

How marvelous! Let us all tie our shoelaces together and hop to work! Think of the energy we will save…and what a great world we will have.

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century.

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