Just say no to elitist gas tax arguments
Economist Robert Samuelson wrote an op-ed for Investors Business Daily (which ran on Monday) in which he called for a steadily increasing tax on gasoline. I sent the following letter to IBD in response:
Robert Samuelson’s call for a gasoline tax because otherwise “Americans might cling to old habits” smacks of the worst sort of Nanny Statism. Americans switched from horse buggies to cars without imposing a buggy tax, from slide rules to calculators to computers without taxes on slide rules, from oil lamps to light bulbs without a lamp tax.
We neither want nor need Big Brother to decide what’s best for us and impose that view through making our lives less convenient or more expensive. The most visible impact of the existing high gasoline taxes in Europe is the tens of thousands of tiny cars on the roads. Americans, whether Samuelson likes it or not, enjoy our larger cars. Indeed, in the Colorado mountains where I live, such a tiny car – which are almost all two-wheel drive – could be a death trap. Under a high gas tax regime, car makers will either be forced to make smaller, lighter, more dangerous (to the occupants) vehicles, or to build much more expensive cars using high-tech materials to enhance safety, but forcing Americans to spend on a vehicle what they might otherwise spend on education, health care, or recreation.
In short, whether due to true shortages or to supply disruptions, the price signals sent by markets are all the economy needs to transition to other fuels. In the meantime, Samuelson did get one thing right: America has a huge problem in terms of government regulation, not just in terms of oil drilling but also in the outrageously long process, generally more than a decade, needed to get approval for a nuclear power plant.
America’s problem is not that our “energy policy” isn’t aggressive enough; it’s that the government has an energy policy. Government needs to get out of the way and allow any and all energy development which does not objectively threaten the health of Americans. Beyond that, Samuelson and his ilk should keep their “I know what’s best for you” egotism out of our lives.
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