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Op-Ed Columnist

Why Nations Fail

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 Uzbekistan, the authoritarian crackdown in Gambia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Zambia. 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 Marco Rubio, on the other hand, seem to think that unscientific rhetoric will substitute for a compromise.

But the Republican party of Marco Rubio is not the Republican party of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt wouldn’t just filibuster, he'd compromise 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.

It's good to see the talks between the president and congress getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. 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 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, "them's the breaks."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Norway, which all but solved its energy crisis over the past decade. When I visited Norway in 2002, Mwambe, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a third job because of the high cost of energy. I caught up with Mwambe in Oslo last year. Thanks to Norway's reformed approach toward energy, Mwambe has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a television set for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of blackjack with one another. America's got to call a time-out.