In his column for The New York Times on September 27, 2006, Thomas L. Friedman calls for "a gasoline tax or a tariff on imported oil" to "keep the price at the pump at $3 or more." This added revenue, he argues, could be used "to stimulate various alternative energy programs, more conservation and a structural shift by car buyers and makers to more fuel-efficient vehicles." Keeping gas prices high at the pump and financing alternatives to oil, Friedman says, would have the added long-term benefit of draining cash from what he calls "petro-authoritarians," such as Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, "who are all so smug -- not because they are educating their people or building competitive modern economies, but because they happen to sit on oil."
Under Friedman's regressive gas tax plan a janitor in Los Angeles who depends on an automobile out of necessity, and makes about $15,000 a year, must sacrifice a piece of his or her hourly wages for the cause; while the CEOs and shareholders of Exxon-Mobile, Chevron-Texaco, and the rest of the oil conglomerates sacrifice nothing; their current profit structures remain fixed in place.
With the oil corporations' record profits, and the GOP Congress shoveling pork their way, doesn't it make sense to ask them to contribute something to develop alternative fuels and efficient cars, especially since they have lobbied against these things for years? Instead of a gas tax that will hurt the working poor, why not save billions of dollars by reducing the subsidies and corporate welfare to the oil companies, and raise the federal tax rate on their bloated profits? By asking nothing of the oil companies, Friedman's gas tax is terribly unfair. He sides with Bush and Cheney and the oil CEOs who seem to have a lot in common with the "petro-authoritarians" he dislikes so much.
Earlier in the piece, Friedman says we should not "indulge a buffoon like Chavez, who uses Venezuela's oil riches to try to sway democratic elections in Latin America and promote an economic populism that will eventually lead his country into a ditch." Friedman divines a dire economic future for Venezuela, (a nation with immense oil reserves). But Venezuela is not the only Latin American nation to reject Friedman's beloved neo-liberal economic model. Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru have also pulled away from the failed "free trade" project that over the course of two decades enriched the few, impoverished the many, and created the social conditions that gave rise to the "economic populism" that Friedman loathes.