Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A modest proposal: Tax the $#!+ out of gasoline

So, as another summer travel season approaches, the American media will whip itself into another paroxysm about rising gasoline prices -- the same way it has every summer for the last 30 years. Only this time it will be worse, both because rising fuel costs are a slight but measurable brake on the economy at a time when we need to be hitting the gas, and because it's a Presidential election year. Only this will be the worst Presidential election year because the Republican primary season may not end until the GOP national convention* in Tampa. That means that the disingenuous bastards running for the Republican nomination will be desperately trying to pin rising prices on Obama, and lying through their teeth about how their policies will result in Venezuela style gasoline prices here in the U.S.

The truth is, nothing the U.S. can do in terms of freeing up public land, offshore areas, or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling can possibly have an effect on the price of gas at the pump in the next few years, and even over the long term the impact of incremental U.S. production on the world price for oil will be trivial.

I think that the average American could be made to understand that. (Even though the Koch brothers and their ilk have spent billions to dumb down the quality of political discourse in the U.S., and the proof they've succeeded is the fact that the GOP rank and file have not shown up at any of the recent Republican primary debates with buckets of hot tar and feathers, which is the treatment all of the current candidates deserve.**)

I used to think, I wish Obama would hire me to write a speech that explained why 'drill baby drill' is only a slogan, not a solution, vis-a-vis rising gas prices.

But I have an alternative idea, albeit one that's even less palatable than educating the electorate. Let's tax the shit out of gasoline. I'm not thinking we'd tax it as much as it is taxed in most western European nations (where current prices average about $8 per gallon) because the average American probably 'has' to drive further than the average European, who lives in a smaller country and has better access to public transit. I'm thinking we'd tax it at about half the European rates, raising prices to about $6.50 a gallon.

That would increase gasoline tax revenues by about $200,000,000,000. Yes, there are 12 zeroes in that number. That money could be earmarked (pardon the choice of words, but...) for improvements to road infrastructure and public transit, which is almost all spending that cannot be outsourced to the third world. Good jobs for Americans? Check

The higher tax load would have a number of other desirable effects.

It would serve as a damper on impact of minor price fluctuations caused by hiccups in international markets or seasonal demands. All the same forces that cause gasoline prices to rise in the summer here in the U.S. are at work on the European market, too. And fluctuations in the world price for oil impact their gasoline prices just as they do ours. The reason they aren't screaming bloody murder about a $1/gallon increase in gasoline prices killing the fragile economic recovery is that the fluctuations aren't nearly as noticeable in Europe, because they're masked by high fuel taxes.

A significant gasoline tax would allow the government to get out of the business of trying to regulate CAFE standards. We wouldn't have to encourage R&D in clean energy technology. The tax would make now controversial public transit projects like the California high-speed rail project seem like obvious choices that would inevitably return a profit to the public/private joint ventures that promote them. Raise gasoline prices high enough, and the market will sort that stuff out. (Or will those free-market Kochsuckers come up with some reason why, suddenly, their beloved market forces won't work in this scenario?)

A big gas tax increase would even reduce the long term health costs facing the U.S., since ample research has shown that in countries where people walk more and use more public transport, the population's far healthier.

It would even get the motorcycle business off its ass.

End of rant.

*None of the current contenders will be the Republican Party's actual nominee. When the current crop of fatally flawed candidates have finally rendered each other unelectable, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be drafted in at the last minute. You read it here first.

**Ron Paul is not really a Republican, nor does he deserve to be tarred and feathered.

No comments:

Post a Comment