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Op-Ed Columnist

Two Worlds Cracking Up

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if academics sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our energy crisis.

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about energy, 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 Belarus, the authoritarian crackdown in Latvia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Vanuatu. But the energy problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that energy can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Rand Paul, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Rand Paul is not the Republican party of Ronald Reagan. Reagan 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 energy.

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 energy. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend less: and not just spend less, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax cuts as well, but as they say, "Ya gotta get down to brass tacks."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Finland, which all but solved its energy crisis over the past decade. When I visited Finland in 2000, 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 energy. I caught up with Bartho in Helsinki last year. Thanks to Finland's reformed approach toward energy, Bartho has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford an apartment 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 backgammon with one another. America has to become a first world country again.