I finally decided to go in for TimesSelect. I am greeted by Tom Friedman's column, "Let's (Third) Party," where I read this gem about gasoline prices:
Like someone who will tell the truth: The only way Americans are ever going to enjoy relatively cheap gasoline again is if we raise the price now with a gasoline tax— and fix it at that higher level for several years — so investors know that it is not coming down, and therefore it makes economic sense for them to make the long-term investments in alternative, renewable sources of energy. That is the only way to break our oil addiction and ultimately bring down the price.
That's a fascinating "truth." Note that he is not writing here about the externalities associated with our dependence on oil--he is writing about the direct consumption of it through gasoline. So in order to have cheap gasoline later, we should insist on having expensive gasoline today, even if the price of gasoline would fall in the interim. That is beyond silly.
I understand that post-9/11, Friedman has been frustrated by the failure of the President to launch a national initiative about anything, but particularly about our energy consumption. I share much of that frustration. I even advocate for a higher gasoline tax (because of the externalities associated with its consumption and instead of idiotic CAFE standards). I also wish more people understood Brad DeLong's very cogent point that the correct side of this debate to be on is to have people face the market price of gasoline and certainly to do nothing to shield them from it (again because of the externalities). But Friedman is doing the same sort of pandering as the politicians he is criticizing when he holds out the promise of a future with cheaper gas as the rationale for his proposal.
It doesn't have to be complicated. Estimate the monetary cost of the negative externalities associated with gasoline use, set the appropriate tax, and then do nothing else. The market price then sends the correct signal to investors about how to take advantage of new opportunities in alternative energy.