All Signs Point Toward Higher Gas Taxes


Kevin Drum, nearing the conclusion of a very enlightening post about oil, concludes:

This is not something that can be tamed with gasoline taxes in the United States or anything similar. It’s a global phenomenon. This is all the more reason we should be making Manhattan Project kinds of commitments to developing alternative energy sources and reducing our economy’s dependence on oil. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit in the areas of conservation and increased efficiency, and no reason to waste any more time arguing about. At the very least, we should be doing the easy stuff.

I find this kind of breezy dismissal of higher gasoline taxes to be quite frustrating. For one thing, it’s just not the case that some amazing technological breakthrough is required for people to have less gasoline-intensive lifestyles:

The technologies deployed in France—shorter commutes, lighter cars, trains, and buses—don’t require a massive R&D effort to implement. They require some investment in transit, they require a lot of changes to land use regulation, and they require people to receive a clear signal that saving money on gasoline by purchasing a lighter car and/or living closer to work is a good idea.

Meanwhile, if Congress were sitting around atop a giant pile of money, I feel certain that they could be relatively easily persuaded to disburse it on a giant alternative energy R&D effort. Alongside the various boondoggles, some of the money might even end up being well-spent on useful projects! But how to acquire the giant pile of money? Well, you could tax gasoline. That way not only would Congress get a giant pile of money to throw around on R&D projects, private firms would also invest R&D funds on products that would help consumers evade these punitive new taxes. What’s not to like? Obviously, the politics are bad. The voters like their cheap gasoline! But it’s precisely the federal government’s longstanding implicit promise to deliver cheap gasoline that’s landed us in this mess.