The oil price problems America is facing today mirror those of the 1970s. And given our chronic inability to develop a sustainable long-term energy policy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we had a long-term solution then (that we’ve since abandoned): make sure oil prices stay high, thus driving down consumption.
What is surprising was a politician actually spoke of such a solution. And not just any politician, the US’s 38th President, Gerald Ford.
Here are some excerpts from his State of the Union Address in 1975 (NYT):
To provide the critical stability for our domestic energy production in the face of world price uncertainty, I will request legislation to authorise and require tariffs, import quotas or price floors to protect our energy prices at levels which will achieve energy independence.
Increasing energy supplies is not enough. We must take additional steps to cut long-term consumption.
Obviously, voluntary conservation continues to be essential, but tougher programs are needed, and needed now.
Ford’s comprehensive energy policy included:
- more oil drilling
- more use of nuclear power and coal
- forcing Detroit to raise the fuel efficiency of cars
- imposing taxes to assure that the price of gasoline did not fall
- passing a windfall profits tax to assure that the oil companies did not become too rich
The last one is silly (should we put a windfall tax on Google and Microsoft, too?), and high oil prices are doing an excellent job of forcing Detroit to raise fuel efficiency. But diversifying energy sources and taxing gas to encourage conservation and provide price stability are smart.
On the election trail, of course, all John McCain and Barack Obama can talk about it is how to reduce prices at the pump. Let’s just hope that even though they can’t level with voters about reality, they’ll allow reality to dictate their actual energy policies.