Five ideas from praktike

I’d meant yesterday to say some nice things about praktike’s guest post over on Dean Nation, the blog of the Dean movement. Here are prak’s ideas:

  1. Support the growth of civil society in the Middle East.
  2. Push for higher gas taxes.
  3. Make connections with Muslims here in America and abroad.
  4. Take the threat of terrorism seriously.
  5. Educate yourself about the issues.

I agree with 100% of what praktike has to say in this post (and I do mean 100%) and I recommend the post to your attention.

I do have a few observations, however. I think it bears emphasis that while these five things are necessary they are not sufficient. I don’t think that anybody should be confused into thinking that if these five positions are adopted that the threat of terrorism will be abated and all the problems in the Middle East will be solved. I want to emphasize that praktike does not make this claim, either.

Support the growth of civil society in the Middle East

Does it seem to anyone else that there’s a reductio ad elections going on right now? Not everything bad in the Middle East will be solved by Iraqi (or any other) elections and not everything good will come from them. It’s more complex than that. We need to support the good in the Middle East with more than just words and oppose the bad in the Middle East—also with more than just words if need be. And that must be true of both our friends and our enemies in the region (if you can tell which is which).

Push for higher gas taxes

I’ve been in favor of this for more than thirty years so it would be odd if I opposed it now. Largely for strategic reasons (both foreign and domestic). But there is one area in which I’m not quite as sanguine as praktike is here. There’s a world market for oil and even if the United States didn’t import a drop of oil from the Middle East our erstwhile allies in Europe do. Eliminating our dependency on Middle Eastern oil would not reduce Saudi leverage much.

Make connections with Muslims here in America and abroad

I couldn’t agree more. ‘Nuff said.

Take the threat of terrorism seriously

With me you’re preaching to the choir on this one, praktike. Where I suspect we differ (and where I certainly differ from the Bush Administration) is that I think that the timeline is very, very short.

Educate yourself about the issues

Once again, I couldn’t agree more.

8 comments… add one
  • I agree with all of these points save one: the idea of a high gas tax. In order for such a tax to be effective, it must cover all fuels that could be used to power autos. Otherwise, the tax would be skirted by using, say, diesel fuel. (If there are any potential oil-derivative fuels not taxed, within a very short time those will be the fuels auto engines are tuned for.) This would be all well and good if the concern was gas, but the concern is the raw material from which gas comes, and that concern would not be addressed by taxing only certain derivatives.

    But what else uses those fuels? Airlines, railways, trucking firms, river craft – any practical means of transporting large amounts of goods and people, actually. So what do those companies do when faced with significantly higher costs? They cut costs elsewhere, usually by laying off people. They also raise their prices, which increases the costs to their customers, who also lay off people. But who are their customers? For goods, the customers are generally stores (and for people, the customers are generally corporations that have offices in multiple states, or that hire non-local consultants), which means that when they pass on their costs, it’s to people buying goods – many of whom have just been laid off because of the increased costs to their former employers.

    In other words, if your goal is to spin the economy into a recession or worse, raising the fuel tax is a good way to do it.

  • That’s precisely why I’ve favored a fuel tax very slowly ratcheted up since the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970’s. And my fundamental concerns, as I mentioned in my post, are strategic.

  • praktike Link

    In response to Jeff and Dave’s comments (now that we’re friends again! heh):

    “There’s a world market for oil and even if the United States didn’t import a drop of oil from the Middle East our erstwhile allies in Europe do. Eliminating our dependency on Middle Eastern oil would not reduce Saudi leverage much.”

    I don’t think I made the “much” claim, or at least I hope I didn’t. I tried to be careful with that one. OPEC still has the ability to monkey with prices whatever we do, for instance. But the lower our exposure to their whims, the better in my view.

    In response to Jeff, I’d be in favor of a BTU tax. to solve the loophole problem. You could phase it in over several years so that the blow would be cushioned and consumers and auto producers could have time to adjust.

  • praktike Link

    One other thing I need to add to the list was reducing arms sales to the region. See this post for some explanation.

  • One other thing I need to add to the list was reducing arms sales to the region.

    Do I agree with this one! And there’s plenty of blame to spread around: the United States, Russia, France, China, etc. It’s a continuing source of chagrin for me that the United States is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) arms merchant in the world. Arming yourself is one thing; arming others is something quite different.

  • praktike Link

    It would have to be done multilaterally, though, because there would essentially be no point if these countries just started buying their weaponry from Russia or France or whomever. So there would need to be a serious worldwide movement to put pressure on all of these countries, because it’s tempting to make these deals.

  • What sticks in my craw is what a cash crop munitions are (particularly for the French, Chinese, and Russians).

  • AMac Link

    While Jeff Medcalf (first comment) is certainly right that an oil tax of any flavor (eg the BTU-tax) would be bad for the US economy in the short run, the past year or so’s events give some food for thought. Oil prices have run up substantially, say gasoline $1.20/gal -> $2/gal, yet the economy has survived, even prospered. Doubtless it would have prospered _more_ had oil prices remained lower, but would an 80 cent/gal tax in 2002 (or 1992) have trashed the economy? This evidence says not.

    Oil prices are going to go up, no matter what. Questions are how much, and whether moderately fast or very fast. Supply, demand, instability. In the meantime, we (Americans) continue to build infrastructure and durable goods based on the arithmetic of cheap energy. Fleet MPGs or the insulation practices in the buildings you see going up around you illustrate the point.

    So, contra Jeff’s point, I would argue that an energy tax would (would have) had long term beneficial effects on the US economy by providing incentives to use energy more efficiently.

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