Thursday, March 17, 2005

Yesterday the Senate, in a 51-49 vote, approved drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. The bill isn't set in stone yet -- it still needs to return to the Senate to be authorized -- but the vote was nonetheless the first major victory for Bush's national energy policy.

Predictably, the bill has generated a fair amount of commentary, with specific arguments for and against running the gamut from national security to environmental conservation. I can't help thinking, though, that such arguments are missing the bigger picture here. As melodramatic as this may sound, it seems to me that domestic oil consumption is, in the end, about one thing: sustaining the American dream.

After all, two essential aspects of that dream are dependent on low energy costs:
  • The ideal of a perfectly elastic society, in which individual wealth rises and falls according to individual talent; yet social mobility requires economic opportunity, which requires economic growth, which requires inexpensive energy.
  • The ideal of individual home ownership, which today entails a three bedroom, two-story house with a white picket fence; however, that picket fence doesn't happen on a mass scale without mass commutes, and mass commutes don't happen without low gas prices.
Perhaps I may only be stating the obvious in referring the oil debate to the much broader issue at hand. But since I haven't read any reminders of this in the commentaries I've come across, I thought I'd take the initiative to point out again that when debating energy policy, what is really at stake is the specific form that we want the American dream to take.


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