Friedman: US losing its edge?

cacheop points to a column by New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman questioning whether the US is losing its edge economically, because of a variety of factors – and, importantly, asking what the US government is doing about it. Friedman (who’s one of my favourite columnists, perhaps because I don’t always agree with him) proposes a “Manhattan Project” to develop a hydrogen-based energy economy, something that would vastly benefit the US (by making it completely energy independent) and the globe (by vastly reducing greenhouse emissions).
But of course, with Bush in the White House – the classic son of the oil business – it’s not going to happen. Yet, why the hell are the oil companies so focussed on oil? The business they are in is energy, not oil, and some companies are at least thinking about the end of the oil era. It would be easy for a smart oilman to see how much first-mover advantage could be gained by focussing heavily on environmentally-friendly energy now – for a start, you could get research money from every government in the world, and basically get a lot of the work funded without paying much for it.
Some might wonder why a European is concerned about the American economy and its energy. First of all, a healthy American economy helps the whole world: it’s one of the world’s largest markets, and anything that means Americans can’t afford to buy European-made goods is bad for us. Secondly, getting the US to move away from its dependence on oil has good consequences both for the environment (although the one to really watch here is China – when every Chinese family has a car, greenhouse emissions will go to hell), and for its foreign policy (no more interventions in the Middle East). America is a key part of the world – and I want it to be healthy.