Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Questionable Timing
I have a lot of respect for Gregg Easterbrook's opinions on energy matters. He writes well, and what he writes usually seems well-reasoned and well-researched. But I'm a little perplexed at the timing of his New York Times editorial advocating the imposition of a 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax. It also stands in odd juxtaposition to a highly sensible suggestion on the same editorial page concerning ways in which Saudi Arabia and the US could calm the current oil price frenzy.

Although much of Mr. Easterbrook's speculation about a world shaped by a 50 cent gas tax sounds plausible, it also provides a good example of "should'a, would'a, could'a" thinking. We will never know if a higher gas tax would have truly kept SUVs smaller or scarcer. And while higher taxes probably would have reduced crude oil imports, it seems quite a stretch to suggest that they would have diminished the geopolitical importance of the Middle East. No tax can change the fact that half of the world's oil reserves reside there.

Perhaps it would have been more instructive to discuss how the revenues from those higher gasoline taxes in Europe have been used, along with their impact on European consumers, factoring in differences in geography and mass transit options.

In any case, it appears we'll get our opportunity to see what sustained $2.00/gallon gasoline does to consumer behavior and to the economy, and we won't have to pass untenable legislation to do so. Later, if we all decide we like it this way, we can ask our Congressional representatives to add new taxes to keep gas prices from falling, as they eventually will. Something tells me that when that happens, we'll prefer keep the savings in our own pockets.

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