Gas tax: It’s the Middle East, stupid

Derek Thompson

Politicians are always looking for the next big “duh” issue. So why isn’t anybody on the Left talking about energy independence?

Some say calling for a Manhattan Project-type energy revolution is political suicide. Sure, wind and solar power would slow global warming, they say, but most Americans don’t give a hoot about the environment. And maybe a gas tax would thwart the oil apocalypse after the Middle East dries up, but if Americans voted for posterity, they would have sent Bush home with his tax cuts in 2004.

But here’s the election-day clincher: Energy independence could be our most effective pro-democracy tactic in the war on terror.

Oil has both clouded American judgment and poisoned Middle Eastern politics, especially in Saudi Arabia. By tapping only oil resources instead of its citizens’ entrepreneurship, Saudi Arabia has sidestepped the wave of capitalism. Two hundred years ago, the United States united to protest taxation without representation. In Saudi Arabia, the inverse is true; the government hardly taxes its citizens, so it doesn’t represent them.

This is the vicious cycle of Saudi-American politics. The United States guzzles Middle Eastern oil. Saudi oil exports make tax revenue unnecessary. No taxation means no representation, and that means no democracy in Saudi Arabia. How many times have we seen Congress applaud the President’s drivel about building democracy in the Middle East with gas-guzzling Hummers and Apache helicopters running on the very oil that props up our enemies?

Time for Congress to think green and get serious. A prospective gas tax would provide the perfect incentive for Americans to buy cars with hybrid technology and jump-start America’s energy independence. Some economists estimate that Americans consume one-seventh of the world’s oil supply on U.S. highways. If the United States leads a global coalition to advance alternative sources of energy, dropping oil exports could force Saudi Arabia to turn to the alternative source of revenue: taxation.

To inject capital into their tax base, Saudi Arabia would feel real pressure to embrace the ingredients of capitalist success: encouraging internal investment, private ownership, competition and deregulation. Armed with higher wages, an empowered Saudi electorate could break free of its Wahhabist crutches and demand representation in return for their taxes.

Without firing a bullet, we can fortify America’s energy security for the next century. Free to disengage from the Middle East, we can emphatically undercut a primary rationale for global Arab-Islamic terrorism. We can lead an international green revolution against global warming. And we can help peacefully renovate some of the world’s most diseased regimes.

This could be the most important question facing our generation. We have the capacity to change the world. Do we have the energy?

Derek Thompson is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached [email protected]