Marketplace Commentary, 9/29/2001

September 18, 2001

Marketplace, September 19, 2001

America is in a war against terrorism and people on the home front want to help. But what should they do? Progressives like myself wring our hands about defending civil liberties and stemming hatred during these perilous times. But that’s not enough.

If we want to catch the hearts and minds of the American people, we have to say more. I propose that we use this moment of national grief and unified purpose to advance a positive agenda.

First, let’s immediately wean America from its depends on foreign oil. As Daniel Yergen wrote in “The Prize,” oil has fueled both economic growth and great conflicts in the 20th century. But in the 21st century, it has become albatross around the advanced industrial world’s neck. It is the primary source of not only air pollution and global warming, but of geopolitical instability. Isn’t it shocking that so many of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producing state? The technology is there today to end our oil dependency. If it wanted to, the automobile industry could within five years have every vehicle rolling off assembly lines using clean technologies like fuel cells or battery-powered hybrid engines.

Second, America is now faced with a crisis in the airline industry. Let’s build a high speed rail system. That would solve two problems. It would reduce our appetite for oil, and take the pressure off the airlines by eliminating most flights under 300 miles. We’re dreading that airport gridlock and long lines for security checks. We could entangle that mess by shifting government investment into high speed trains. And by building a high speed rail system, it would create tens of thousands of jobs, just what the economy needs right now. And don’t forget: the Interstate Highway System was built in the name of national defense.

Ending our dependence from foreign oil; a high speed rail system; jobs from a major public works project – these home front programs are practical, they are progressive, and they would give the economy a boost. And most important, it would unite the nation in the home front war on terrorism in a way that doesn’t sacrifice our basic freedoms.

In Washington, this is Merrill Goozner for Marketplace.

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