The Editorials of E. Desiderius

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Great Idea: Why Congress Should Raise Gas Taxes, and Why Of Course They Won’t Do It

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Yesterday’s New York Times ran a piece entitled MTV’s ‘Super Sweet 16’ Gives A Sour Pleasure, about the MTV reality show that covers lavish, gaudy Sweet 16 birthday parties, complete with birthday girls and boys making grand entrances on elephants, or giving out MP3 players as an invitation, then partying at Jay-Z’s New York Club, with Kanye West doing a short set before Diddy makes the rounds. One young Indian-American high school graduate received “a Bentley, diamonds and two homes in India.” “I was really surprised” said young Divya, the graduate in question. “I was only expecting a Bentley and one house.” And another young lady, Sophie, “was just as quick to defend her mother's decision to spend $180,000 for her party.” "Unless they were crazy or hated their child, any parent who was financially able would do it," she said.” [1].

What does this have to do with gas prices? Well, frankly Congress is spoiling the American people rotten, quite like young Sophie and Divya’s parents. Here are the facts: Gasoline is one of, if not the, cheapest liquid to buy per gallon. A gallon of Lipton Ice Tea costs around $9.50, a gallon of Ocean Spray costs $10.00. A gallon of Evian Water costs $21.42. A gallon of Scope mouthwash cost a steep $84.48. And the vicious, price gougers over at Vicks are charging us $178.13 for a gallon of Nyquil.

And American gas prices are much lower than even their first-world counterparts. In the UK city of Teeside, gas runs at $5.64 (American dollars, of course). In Hong Kong, its $5.62. In Geneva, $4.56. In Vienna, $4.50. Tokyo? $3.84. The third world isn’t much better off, despite much lower costs of living and wages. In Phnom Penh, $2.57. Only in Caracas are they doing much better than the US. The price of gasoline in Caracas? A mere $0.14.

Americans far too often believe they can have their cake and eat it too. The Republicans want to offer a 100 dollar gas tax credit, but at the same time, that tax credit would be conditional on drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge. This is not acceptable. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but somewhere along the line, it has somehow become the American dream to purchase a large, cumbersome, obnoxious vehicle that gets approximately 15 miles a gallon, and then complain to Congress and the states about fuel prices, when it becomes a drain on the wallet. And then the federal government acquiesces. Democrats address it socially: they want to help ordinary working-class Americans and lessen their economic burden. Republicans want to slash taxes of all sort. Thus, both parties simply adore slashing the price of gasoline.

American have become far too complacent in planning for the future. We borrow money now and send the national debt soaring. Neither party is willing to tackle social security seriously, while the Baby Boomers speed towards retirement. The Medicare drug benefit was a gift to large corporations. And neither political party will offer comprehensive solutions on alternative energy. The Liberal Lion himself, Ted Kennedy, is behind a shady backroom deal that jeopardizes the Cape Wind Project, a proposed wind farm that would have generated 3/4ths of Cape Cod’s electricity needs, and would have been the pollution equivalent of taking more than one-hundred cars off the road. And now the Democrats are now stuck in the awkward place of having to stand on principle to defend a patch of snow in Alaska, or standing against providing every household with a tax credit. And the Republicans simply want to offer Americans more money to put into their clunky, inefficient vehicles that are eating up the lion’s share of the world’s oil reserves.

So what is the solution to this “gas crisis”? It should certainly not be an investigation into price gouging, as Republicans have been talking about. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg points out, “If you don't have some sort of monopoly power, gouging is another word for charging the highest price the market will bear, also known as capitalism.” [2]. Certainly not opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, nor ceasing deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, nor loosening environmental protections.

The answer is raising gas taxes. Slap another on ten or twenty, even thirty cents per gallon. Americans who own inefficient “gas guzzling” vehicles should be made to feel a sting every time they pull up to the pump. Their wallets should be slimmer, and their credit cards balance should be much higher. Then what? A tax credit. Americans who drive vehicles which EPA certified as getting 30 mpg or higher in city conditions should get a 500 dollar tax credit. Americans who drive vehicles which get 40 mpg city should get 1000 dollars. Americans who drive a vehicle certified as 60 mpg should get 2000 dollars (The only one current certified at that is the Honda Insight).

Finally, what about poor Americans who are genuinely having trouble making ends meet? A Federal Gas Assistance Programs should be created, based on need. Part of the money from the increase of the gas tax would go into this program, which would be a welfare-like program that gave Americans gas vouchers for free or discounted gas.

Of course Congress would never implement such a plan and it would, of course, be political suicide. On the West Wing, CJ Craig once remarked that a classic Washington Scandal was getting in trouble for telling the truth. Any party that told this truth to the American people would be out of a job. Fast. And that’s a sad state of affairs. In the meantime, a better solution is to simply open American wells, drain them of every last drop of oil, pollute the environment even more, make no headway on alternative energy, make no government commitment towards either a hydrogen economy or fuel efficient vehicles, and subsidize well-off upper-class Hummer owners who will be damned if they pay more than three dollars at the pump. Every other day. Sounds like a sensible policy to me.

-E. Desiderius

Related Articles/Sources:
NY Times - MTV’s ‘Super Sweet 16’ Gives A Sour Pleasure
[2] Slate – How High Gas Prices Make Politicians Stupid
CNN Money – Gas Prices Around the World
AP/Yahoo – Lawmakers Scramble To Ease Gas-Price Pain
Blog – Big Picture – Cheap Gas – Most and Least Fuel Efficient Cars

Posted by George Gordon | Thursday, April 27, 2006 | E-mail this post

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