Great Question by Tom Friedman

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The following question comes from this morning's Tom Friedman column, "The Copenhagen That Matters." The particular point is that Denmark is thriving economically (unemployment rate: 4%) at the same time as - or is it because of? - its energy and carbon taxes are among the highest in the world, it enforces "strict building codes and energy labeling programs," and other things we refuse to do in this country (unemployment rate: 10%). The more general point is as follows:
... How long are we Americans going to go on thinking that we can thrive in the 21st century when doing the optimal things — whether for energy, health care, education or the deficit — are “off the table.” They’ve been banished by an ad hoc coalition of lobbyists loaded with money, loud-mouth talk-show hosts who will flame anyone who crosses them, political consultants who warn that asking Americans to do anything important but hard makes one unelectable and a citizenry that doesn’t even ask for optimal anymore because it believes that optimal is impossible.
Thus, instead of really solving our health care crisis, we opt to tweak the bizarre, perverse system of "health care for profit," but not to address the core, underlying problems with that system. Thus, instead of facing economic, strategic and environmental reality head on by imposing steep taxes on greenhouse gas pollutants, we instead nibble around the edges (if we even do that much), constantly cave in to industry groups and regional interests demanding special favors and tax breaks, and water down the entire effort to worthlessness. Thus, instead of seriously addressing the fact that we're living far beyond our means, we put off dealing with our structural deficits and unfunded entitlements, refuse to ask anyone to sacrifice anything, fight wars without paying for them, and continue on a path that - if it continues - will lead to the "fall" of yet another great power (see The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy) -- the United States of America.

So here's my question: are we really going to let this happen, simply because we no longer are willing and able to do optimal things anymore (and, on climate change, because we let the "know nothings" win)? If so, then something's definitely rotten, but it's not in Denmark.