If your goal is to help the American economy, the smartest (if somewhat cynical) strategy is the opposite of Mr. Agassi’s program to destroy the Democratic Party in order to create a captive market for his electric cars. To grow the American economy, keep energy prices as low as possible, and don’t lift a finger or pay a single cent to develop electric car technology. During all the years while the new technology is being incubated and developed at great cost overseas, we will enjoy the benefits of lower energy prices than high tax countries pay. The economy will grow faster than it would at a higher energy price, and all kinds of new products and services will come on line as people work to satisfy the consumer demand that results from the growth. In fact, during all these years both Europe and China will be subsidizing the American economy — their high gas taxes will automatically depress energy demand in those countries, reducing global demand for oil and therefore leading to even lower gas prices (and greater economic growth) here. All good news for a truly Machiavellian strategist.
Then, when China finally comes up with the efficient batteries and redesigned cars that will revolutionize transport, let’s start by reveling in even lower gas prices. Europe and China will be puttering along in their electric vehicles that only make sense if the gas price is $7 per gallon or higher; Americans will be swooping over the interstates as our gas prices fall. The Arabs and the Venezuelans will be begging us to take that black gooey stuff off their hands. SUV sales will boom; since this is about the only car Detroit can make profitably, the US car industry will enjoy another respite from its long decline. And when the time finally comes to go plug-in, we can reverse engineer the Chinese technology, figure out a way around their patents and, if Detroit is up to the job, make our own electric cars without paying all those huge development costs.