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Op-Ed Columnist

New Rules

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if grassroots activists sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our gas prices crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about gas prices, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Iraq, the authoritarian crackdown in Ethiopia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Algeria. But the gas prices problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that gas prices can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Democratic party of Nancy Pelosi is not the Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t refuse to budge, he'd break ranks with members of his own party because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of gas prices.

The first rule of holes is that when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about gas prices. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of national infrastructure that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "When in Rome."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Singapore, which all but solved its gas prices crisis over the past decade. When I visited Singapore in 1998, Bartho, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a fourth job because of the high cost of gas prices. I caught up with Bartho in Singapore last year. Thanks to Singapore's reformed approach toward gas prices, Bartho has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford winter coats for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as industry captains insist on playing a high-stakes game of blackjack with one another. America has to become a first world country again.