By on December 28, 2008

Yup, it’s deja vu all over again, as New York Times star columnist and flat earther Thomas L. Friedman once again echoes the Gray Lady’s conviction that a federal gas tax is a good thing. No surprise there. In case you didn’t realize it, Friedman has no problem telling people what to do with their national economies. In fact, it’s clear he feels what was once called noblesse oblige. “I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of ways to retool America around clean-power technologies without a price signal — i.e., a tax — and there are no effective ones. (Toughening energy-effiency [sic] regulations alone won’t do it.) Without a higher gas tax or carbon tax, Obama will lack the leverage to drive critical pieces of his foreign and domestic agendas.” You want him to tax that gas. You need him to tax that gas. “Today’s financial crisis is Obama’s 9/11. The public is ready to be mobilized. Obama is coming in with enormous popularity. This is his best window of opportunity to impose a gas tax. And he could make it painless: offset the gas tax by lowering payroll taxes, or phase it in over two years at 10 cents a month.” And then Tom trots out the “H” word, and you just know someone somewhere is gonna pay.

“It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.’s and Hummers.”

OH NO! NOT THAT! NOT A HUMMER! Anyway, a gas tax is the answer to, well, everything.

“A gas tax reduces gasoline demand and keeps dollars in America, dries up funding for terrorists and reduces the clout of Iran and Russia at a time when Obama will be looking for greater leverage against petro-dictatorships. It reduces our current account deficit, which strengthens the dollar. It reduces U.S. carbon emissions driving climate change, which means more global respect for America. And it increases the incentives for U.S. innovation on clean cars and clean-tech.

“Which one of these things wouldn’t we want? A gasoline tax ‘is not just win-win; it’s win, win, win, win, win,’ says the Johns Hopkins author and foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. “A gasoline tax would do more for American prosperity and strength than any other measure Obama could propose.”

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67 Comments on “NYT’s Thomas L. Friedman: Gas Tax is a Win Win Win Win Win...”


  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    No, it’s a win lose lose lose lose lose.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    ““It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit — and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars — and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. As long as gas is cheap, people will go out and buy used S.U.V.’s and Hummers.”

    Engels, Stalin and Marx would have been proud.

    His pieces represent the knee-jerk eye candy of whatever is fashionable to say at the particular moment. No substance. Just spittle.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    More proof that Friedman is like a broken clock. He gets this one right. Still, after reading his story, I am tempted to join the other side of the argument.

  • avatar
    davis

    Up here in canada it doesn’t work. We pay $2.42 a gallon with conversion when we produce the oil in the first place. Do we all buy smaller cars? NO..The taxes on our fuel are supposedly for road maintenance and this money never gets actually put into roads. If this worked as it is supposed to we would have the best roads and highways in the world instead of some of the worst.

  • avatar

    So, be specific someone: what’s not to like?

  • avatar
    Luther

    Yep…A $5 gas tax and a 15% VAT tax and Amerika will be a permanent socio-economic shithole like Europe with 70% total tax extracted from the slaves..err…citizen automatons.

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    Well, I just think it’s odd that people want taxes to be used to modify the behavior of the American people instead of serving their original purpose, being to fund the Constitutional functions of the government.

    And what are these alternatives all these writers are talking about? Hybrids? That’s not exactly the most efficient use of money.

    Right. Make gas more expensive, then. Now a lot of people are out a lot more money. And then they are expected to go and buy more efficient vehicles? You know, with all that money they don’t have.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    A big-city liberal fantasy – billions of other people’s money to play with (including wealth redistribution), and since they don’t own automobiles, they think it will not affect them.

    Put a tariff on imported oil, and let people buy what they want.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Ummm, the NYT supposed gas tax to raise it to four to five bucks a gallon is ridiculous. Sending all of this money to the gov’t from out of people’s pockets? Yeah, that’ll help the economy! And we’re sending this to the gov’t, which is sooooo good at spending money. If this passes, the majority of our country’s drivers will be puttering around in old Geo Metros and other eighties shitboxes, which pollute more than modern cars (NOx, unburned hydrocarbons, real pollutants, not CO2).

  • avatar

    Cripes, I said it all yesterday. asldf;bw;erbowipergipvivsdfijcl

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/new-york-times-tax-gas-to-4-5-a-gallon-minimum/


    *Though I would add that the Liberals, Sheens & Garofalos of the world have been intellectually Whitewash Gulag-ing anybody who disagrees with them for years -and years, -and years (possibly since 1967), using terms like ‘Hitler’, ‘Nazi’, ‘Eichmann’, ‘The Man’, ‘Matt Foley’, ‘Dubya’, etc., etc., etc. …

    (I mostly use my terms here for the exaggeration, bombast & the funny, not to overly ‘Label’, and thus Kierkegaard, someone.
    -Even a nutter like psharninnininninjijajiajiajajiian. :D :D :D )

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    davis,

    Give your roads some credit. Given the amount of maintenance they take due to the climate, they seemed pretty nice everywhere I went. One thing you guys have plenty of are roads in sparsely populated areas that will never pay for themselves as well. Of course, I have no idea how much gets skimmed off by Ottawa.

  • avatar
    johnnye

    So, if more taxes is the answer, why don’t we see this working in Europe? Shouldn’t their high gas taxes already have led to the production of the future non oil based cars????

    Another way to create thousands of jobs and to keep the petro-dictatorships from getting rich when prices go up is to drill more here. It would also raise lots of taxes.

    I guess that is not even an answer anymore… sigh…..

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    In my experience, the people who complain most loudly about the price of fuel are the ones unnecessarily driving SUVs and Trucks as everyday transport.

    They also turn into the ones that expect the Government to “save” them by; going to war for oil, or providing “gas holidays”.

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Up here in canada it doesn’t work. We pay $2.42 a gallon with conversion when we produce the oil in the first place. Do we all buy smaller cars? NO..

    But we do buy significantly more small cars than they do in the USA. We tend to skew a size class smaller. Corollas and Civics are #1 here while Camrys/Accords are tops in the USA.

    Our taxes are still low by world standards. There is almost direct correlation with gas taxes and the popularity of smaller vehicles. In Europe the taxes are much higher and so is the prevalence of smaller cars.

    It is pretty obvious that more expensive fuel results in a sales skew to smaller more efficient vehicles.

    I am totally in favor of significant fuel taxes in preference to brain dead policies like Cafe.

    The USA constantly seems to attempt to create supply side solutions (CAFE), rather than creating the ecosystem (fuel taxes) and letting the market sort out the solutions.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Wait a minute. I was told fuzzy bunny rabbits would benefit too. How come Friedman left them off the list? Its actually win^^6! !1!111!

    Once upon a time, well, actually, in 1898, an excise tax on phone service was enacted to help fund the Spanish-American War. It was finally removed in 2006. None of us will live long enough, but I’d bet this tax would last as long, even if in 2109 we’re getting around like George Jetson.

    Some of the cited benefits of the tax are at best temporary, some are specious. The only one that holds up is incenting alternative energy source development. I’d rather see that done with immense X prizes than by greatly increasing the on-going R&D funding. I don’t know whether greed is good, but it can be harnessed…..

  • avatar
    davis

    landcrusher: The roads in sparsely populated areas are definitely a good point. However a 30% excise tax on all petroleum products + anywhere from 5% to 14% sales tax is a lot of money and ottawa/provinces spend this money on everything but roads.I know that taxes are to pay for government not just roads etc but last summer when oil hit 150$ a barrel the govt made lots of money.what did they do with it?

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    …win, win, win, win, win…

    I presume one of those “wins” is for Detroit after the CAFE is concurrently dumped when the $50/barrel Carbon Tax is implemented. That heavily politicized, grossly underperforming piece of legislation (CAFE) must be given the heave-ho if full-line automakers are to have any possibility of surviving in the United States.

    I presume another of those “wins” would be that Detroit would be able to once again design, engineer, and build their full product line in the United States, something the CAFE jackboot will never, ever allow to happen.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Part of the problem of the Canadian example is the tax on new cars, and the fact that so many are leased. It makes it hard to simply compare the two markets based on prices of gas. Also, due to land use restrictions, folks outside of GTA likely do less mileage than us south of the border. Living in Calgary, I hardly drove at all.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    davis,
    I would encourage you to find out what they did with the money, and let thousands of your closest friends all hear about it. Taxation is killing an otherwise wonderful country.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Friedman has never met a tax he didn’t hike.

    If greater fuel efficiency was the true goal then we would do the following.

    1) Attempt to Combine EU, US, Korean Chinese and Japanese safety and emission standards over the next four years.

    This would allow a far greater variety of fuel efficient vehicles to be chosen by the public.

    2) Create separate standards for commercial vehicles versus passenger vehicles.

    Transporting goods may be better served motor vehicles that are not used by the general public.
    We already use tractor trailers to transport large amounts of goods. We may want to consider smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles, to transport goods that don’t require the size of a trailer or pickup truck. These types of vehicles are already common in most of the world but not in the United States.

    3) Eliminate the costs and complexities of importing grey market vehicles into the United States.

    This should be self-explanatory…

    4) Instead of propping up the Big 3. Break them up, eliminate all past contracts and future guarantees, make all prior franchise agreements null and void, and let these companies compete on their own merits.

    Ditto…

  • avatar
    Dan

    johnnye: So, if more taxes is the answer, why don’t we see this working in Europe?

    Have you been to Europe? You see lots of smaller cars, or big cars with smaller engines (e.g., BMW 520′s). You also see a lot more diesels.

    For those of who complaining about tax policy being used to influence behavior… you think this is a new thing? Tax policy is all about influencing behavior. The mortgage interest deduction is all about incentivizing you to buy a house. Good or bad, that’s the game.

    The interesting question is what sort of adjustments, if any, are made in an attempt to make a gas tax “revenue neutral”. For example, they could give a sizable income tax credit equivalent to the additional gas tax revenue for driving some “standard” number of miles per year with some “standard” gas mileage. If you got a car with better mileage or drove fewer miles per year, you’d come out ahead.

    The place where “revenue neutral” gets tricky is when you figure the energy costs into everything else in your life. More expensive petroleum means shipping charges are higher, materials costs for plastics are higher, and so forth.

    Another tricky detail: let’s presume you want to see more production of domestic oil, deep sea oil, etc., where the break-even cost is higher than the middle eastern stuff. Do you give a tax break for the domestic stuff? That smells like an import tariff on the foreign stuff, which in turn leads to all kinds of exciting trade disputes.

    I ain’t saying that this is going to be easy, but if you want to reduce oil consumption, the proper (capitalist) way to do it is to increase oil cost and let the free market adjust. That’s quite different from a more socialist approach, which might simply ban cars altogether that don’t meet some gas-consumption standard.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    grossly underperforming piece of legislation (CAFE) …

    Flawed, absolutely. Underperforming? Detroit went through great pains to circumvent CAFE every chance they could, going so far to give away flex fuel equipment to “buy” credits to offset the profit packed guzzlers. The loopholes should have been closed. I shudder to think how low mileage would have sunk if there was no minimum floor.

    Dan, I agree with much of what you have said. However, raising the price of fuel – pick your method of jacking up the cost – unfairly taxes everybody, even if they choose to buy efficient. Why is it unfair? Because unlike Europe, America does not offer enough mass transit for it to be a true alternative to car ownership, with the exception of cities. America has invested in the private car infrastructure and for better or worse, we have to use what we have. I would like to see a yearly registration surcharge instead of a blanket tax. You do have a choice as what to drive. If you had to shell out $600 to register a car that got 16 mpg, but paid nothing for a car that got 20 mpg, automakers would do everything they could do to keep their models out of the “penalty” bracket. National efficiency of newly registered cars would rise more quickly than ratcheting up CAFE. In fact, CAFE could then be dumped, as the registration penalty tiers could be adjusted instead. Those who chose an efficient car don’t get saddled with extra taxes that are intended to “punish” those who purchase vehicles with high fuel consumption. And those who do want thirsty vehicles can do so, and increased social costs for excess consumption are borne by those who create the excess demand. Seems fair and balanced to me…

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    (CAFE) Underperforming?…

    Yes, underperforming. It took 6 weeks of $4.50 gas to do what 30 years of CAFE failed to do.

    Unfortunately that buck-fifty premium went to oil company profits and foreign governments instead of to improving our roads.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ CarPerson

    With $4.50/gallon how bad would it have been if CAFE hadn’t been forcing up the average fleet economy over the last 30 years?????????????????????

    Would the US fleet be running at 12mpg rather than 18mpg?

    It’s probably necessary to do both….

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Luther

    A $5 gas tax and a 15% VAT tax and Amerika will be a permanent socio-economic shithole like Europe with 70% total tax extracted from the slaves..err…citizen automatons.

    Errr …. Maybe we can hope this comment is down to exaggeration or perhaps watching too much Faux News.

  • avatar
    nonce

    When asked this morning by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos if she could name a single economist who backs her call for a gas tax holiday this summer, Hillary Clinton said “I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.”

  • avatar
    cpmanx

    Let me throw out a few basic principles.

    CAFE and all such supply-oriented legislative approaches are ineffective and counterproductive.

    Reducing US demand for oil (especially imported oil) and driving new technology is a good thing.

    Spending vast sums of money to defeat, defend, or prop up oil-producing states is a crazy use of American resources. (And before anyone suggests that Iraq was not about oil, try to imagine the US mobilizing all its resources to defeat the Mugabe regime.)

    Now let me throw out two modest proposals:

    1) In place of the $500 billion or so spent in Iraq (ignoring all the other oil-related defense spending), what if we committed $500 billion to advanced energy research, including a mix of X-Prize-style competitions?

    2) Or what if we spent that money on a commitment that the government would buy 25 million 50+ mpg cars over the next 10 years? The government could then give them away to the public, or (better) trade them for existing cars. I can think of a million objections to the plan (what would it do to resale values? what happens when the program runs out? etc). But if the government really wants to create a market, then hey, let’s cut the crap, go and actually create a market. And I guarantee that the number of casualties from this experiment will be wonderfully low.

  • avatar
    esldude

    I don’t think calling CAFE underperforming makes any sense. Calling congress underperforming for not raising those standards and closing loopholes does make sense. Calling voters who put them in office underperforming makes sense too. Quite simply while it was possible people got what they wanted. Cheap gas prices allowing the purchase of unreasonably large vehicles. But hey getting to do such things is one of the differences between democracy and other forms of gov’t.

    Changing CAFE to a minimum 30 mpg city rating for any vehicle under 6000 lbs and graduated reductions for vehicles heavier and you will get somewhere with reducing gas consumption in time. Raising those numbers over time also makes some sense. Pushing a gasoline tax just gets the gov’t money while limiting people’s choices. It would take years for higher CAFE standards to work, it would take years for the gasoline tax to result in better new vehicle choices. The tax in the mean time punishes citizens. And somehow those promises of revenue neutrality have a way of being revenue positive.

  • avatar
    kaleun

    It’s probably not the most popular thing to say.. but I do it anyway. When gas was $ 4 it didn’t bother me at all and I wouldn’t mind it to be $4 again if the money went to the government instead of to the terrorists or the oil companies (Yes you heard me, the Arab countries, Russia.. all terrorists in my book). Coming from Germany where gas is $8-$9 a gallon $5 still is cheap. I would want a slower transition for people to have a chance to get more fuel efficient cars and to chose living places close to where they work. Also Mass transit should be expanded.
    The cheap gas has been a drug and made the people dependent (i.e. bought big inefficient vehicles, sprawl of communities, killing of mass transit) and now people have to pay the price since gasoline will get more expensive either way. Oil is running out, and most remaining oil is in enemy’s territory. And no, drilling in Alaska only would supply oil for about 3 months or so.
    It would be better if the government would force us now to change, then when reality (shortage of oil and war over it) would force us suddenly.
    We all know that oil is running out. It might be debatable how soon and how expensive the last few gallons will be, but it is a fact accepted even by right-wingers that oil is a finite resource.
    So your choice, either the government makes it more expensive and transitions slowly and provides alternatives and gives (some of) the money back in form of income tax reduction, or the terrorists and oil companies jack up the price as soon as the economy recovers and keep all the money.
    The most important thing about such taxation would be that it is predictable. Say over the next 5 years the tax goes up by 15 ct every year. That way everyone can prepare. The wrong way would be to increase it much suddenly, the the new congress lowers it, then they raise it again etc.
    The same goes for all other type of energy (electricity, natural gas), which is ridiculously cheap here and leads to waste and makes us more dependent on imports and will cost us much in the future.
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t trust the government with my money (and the current bailout proves me right), but i trust the oil companies and terrorists even less. and i do want to see some income tax reduction in return.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    Friedman is a hack.

    Here’s something that the almighty economist completely misses: The dip in gas prices is temporary. Everyone (except for Friedman) knows it, and everyone knows that prices will rise when the economy starts to recover and demand increases.

    Now here’s why a flat-rate gas tax is an awful idea: Driving up prices on gas to fuel sales of traditional cars, especially in the middle of a recession, will not only not achieve the desired effect, but will only further prolong the economic slowdown. The last thing people need, especially when money is tight and the threat of a job loss is very real, is another tax. Americans are not stupid; they will flat-out reject any gas tax that is imposed on them by the government.

    Look, most people understand that smaller, fuel-efficient cars are the best way to go these days. But there are people that, regardless of the price of gas, will buy large SUVs anyways. And what about people that actually need to use trucks for their jobs? What about people that have 3 or 4 kids and do need a minivan or a crossover? An across the board tax is nonsense; Friedman is a Euro-trash-loving, tax-hungry moron that never deserved the attention given to him.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Droid800

    …what about people that actually need to use trucks for their jobs?

    They would find, that like the rest of the world, you can get work done perfectly well without them.

    If the F-150 (as an example) was available with a huge torque 4L 4-cyl turbo diesel engine only, then I’d believe they are designed for working/towing.

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    PeteMoran wrote:

    In my experience, the people who complain most loudly about the price of fuel are the ones unnecessarily driving SUVs and Trucks as everyday transport.

    For what it’s worth, I drive a Honda Fit and am adamantly against any gasoline tax.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    @Pete Moran

    Are you at all familiar with the American market? Diesels don’t go over well because of the failed experiments in the 70s and 80s that soured an entire generation on the technology. Maybe in the next few years they’ll finally catch on, but that’s why few automakers offer diesels in their mainstream trucks. (and I’ll kindly have you take notice that the heaviest of the heavy duty trucks all have diesels available.

    You also neglect one important thing; America is a vastly different country when it comes to population density and population centers than Europe. While europeans might not need big trucks, it has more to do with how their cities are built and how their population is dispersed than with any taxes or need for them. They use smaller vehicles because they are the most practical for their situation. Many working americans (construction, etc.) use full-size trucks because they are the most practical for their situation. While you glibly suggest that they’d find out that they’d be able to live without them, I think you’d find that you are dead wrong.

    Simply put, a flat gas tax won’t work. (for the same reason that a flat income tax will never work) If the government wants to encourage buyers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles, why not tax the actual vehicles themselves instead of taxing the fuel? If people suddenly have to pay a 5-15% tax on that Escalade or Expedition because of its fuel efficiency, they’d think twice and move to a smaller vehicle. That would be a much more sensible way of doing it, but Friedman for some reason ignores it. (and an economist is the last person we should be listening to at this point thanks to the economic mess we’re currently in)

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Droid800

    Many working americans (construction, etc.) use full-size trucks because they are the most practical for their situation.

    On my most recent contract to the USA last year, I spent nearly 2 months in Wyoming at various mining operations. I saw nothing there that I haven’t seen in other parts of the world, that those parts of the world don’t solve without F-150s and their mutant cousins.

    When I was in Chicago for 3 months in 2006/7, our company had to get a hot water plumber out to our company apartment. He arrived in a Truck. He told me their plumber company used to provide the workers light vans, but as the workforce is changing over to contract only they (plumbers) were going out and buying themselves less practical Trucks. He didn’t understand it; he wished he hadn’t because it was costing him a fortune, harder to keep his tools secure and it was hard to find parking for it! But it was CHEAP to purchase.

    In 2006, I worked with electricity line men in California who now use Tacomas. That same year, I spent weeks observing harvesting in Kansas where most Trucks had nothing but a dog on the back.

    In Seattle, in 2005, I couldn’t park at the mall because it seemed to be full of Trucks and SUVs getting the shopping while taking up more than a car’s worth of parking bay.

    I’d be very interested for you to explain exactly how American methods of work differ so greatly to that of Australian or even European ways that necessitates the need for huge pickup trucks.

    America hasn’t invented a whole class of tradesmen that are doing something magically more effective the rest of the world hasn’t found out about.

    “Fullsize” pickups trucks/SUVs are a creation of poor regulation and the need for one-up-manship in urban warfare with your next-door neighbour/tradesman.

  • avatar
    BMW325I

    Instead of a gas tax how about an engine size tax? Any car 2litre and below are exempt as the US has a scarce amount of cars below that amount. All this tax is going to do is fill up the politicians pockets along with tolls and the newly introduced speed cameras. At least we know what a great portion of our money is being used in the middle east.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    You missed the point completely; part of the reason why American use trucks is because of the vast amount of space that is not developed. Comparatively, there is a much greater amount of undeveloped (and sparsely populated) land in America than there is in Europe. Work vans simply won’t cut it out there. Smaller trucks might, but part of the reason why people buy the bigger trucks is because they need the increased towing capacity. (not because of payload or offroad-ability) There is a need for them, whether you choose to believe it or not.

    I don’t expect a non-American to understand, because you just can’t. Unless you’ve lived for a long period in a rural community that makes its entire living on farming or agriculture, you won’t understand the need for them.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Droid800

    How do I miss the point? I work in manufacturing, process and quality all over the world. I have seen absolutely nothing that makes the American experience unique enough to justify the continued use of full-size pickup trucks.

    The absolute rebuttal of the claim that they are “necessary” is that the rest of the world does not use them; work, towing or otherwise. You just don’t see them, yet the very same problems are solved without these Trucks.

    If you want to talk about open spaces, then we have a few in Australia. You won’t find a single F-150 out there, just Kangaroos, but we have trouble with them in the cities too.

  • avatar
    tedg

    A petroleum tax to reduce consumption is on target but probably not politically salable if the tax proceeds are used to fund government programs. But maybe if the tax proceeds were divided equally and distributed among all registered legal resident it might gain some support among the general population. Americans can be quite competitive and the winners would be those that conserve energy. A substantial tax of $3 per gallon would likely result in reduced consumption but the main benefit would be to make environmentally acceptable fuels competitive and reduce our reliance on imported fuels. Business use would need to be exempt to prevent inflation. This type tax could be used to promote energy conservation across the board.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Pete,
    So, the American pickup truck is simply what? A hoax? Of course we don’t NEED them. We used to use horses. The market has spoken, and we have them. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with them. Apparently, the mall didn’t want your business, their choice. The plumber made a mistake, his choice. You don’t like them, your choice. Don’t buy one.

    Lastly, we seem to be a rather productive people. I can’t seem to think of any reasonably long period of time in which the American worker was outproduced by any other country’s people since we have had pick up trucks. Our system gave us the pick up truck. It may be a sucky system, yet it is still the best. Ya’ll choose what you want, we already did. We chose the truck.

    We would really appreciate your joining in the fun and having more free markets and private property so you can unleash your talents and we can enjoy your successes. Or, you can keep selling your resources to China for a living because it takes less freedom to do that while hoping that WE come up with yet another cure for what ails you because you have decimated your own healthcare systems. In the meantime, we will still love you because every family needs a fun and whacky uncle. Also, don’t worry about the chinese coming to TAKE your resources, because we are your rather pugnacious cousin who, suckers that we are, will bail you out of that mess. And the best part is, we don’t have to because THEY know it better than you do. Next time we are there for exercises, look closely at the Hummer, it’s really a pick up truck.

    BMW325I,
    There are lot’s of variants on your idea, and yours is one of the more practical, but it really won’t work as well as a gas tax. No matter what size the engine, fuel usage varies. My Landcrusher uses less fuel, and pollutes less, than my neighbor’s civic. She drives a dozen times as many miles a year as I do. If the idea is to use less gas, then tax gas. Everything else is an attempt at a free lunch. It’s really the same thing as simply telling random people they can’t drive at all, and being done with it. Why not, it’s just as fair and just as stupid. Interfering in the market is dangerous, if you just HAVE to do it, then stick to the KISS principle. You don’t need to be clever.

  • avatar
    Droid800

    @tedg

    Oh joy, more socialism!

    Your method makes no sense, because it would provide more benefit to one part of society (the poor or lower class) over the others. It would turn into another means of welfare for the poor instead of its intended purpose.

    The second aspect is also nonsensical. Oh yeah, let’s tax gas at twice as much as it currently costs (even an even amount of tax for as much as it currently costs is 80% too much). Let’s suddenly flood an already over-burdened public transit system with millions of new riders. Let’s kill dozens of companies that depend on either the sales of automobiles or are indirectly (or directly) related to petroleum.

    A tax is not the answer to our energy conservation issues. The only way to do it is to engage in a cultural and societal change that will alter buying and traveling habits.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Landcrusher

    I was hoping we could be friends. Perhaps you can come to Australia and I’ll show you around.

    Nothing financial is broken down here. We don’t have people stealing/gambling other people’s money, we’re very productive per capita, even more so than the USA according to the OECD.

    We have a health care system, a pensions system and superannuation (401) system probably superior to many other countries. We don’t feel like we are burdened with taxes, you are rewarded if you work hard. You can even drive a selection of V8s on excellent roads.

    We have open space, affordable housing, tight environmental laws, excellent free education all the way through college and university. You can live in the cold/snow or you can live in 100F beach-side cities.

    Strangely enough, we manage to get all of this stuff done, without an F-150 in sight………

    We have also been allies of the USA in every conflict and our alliance is formalized in the ANZUS Security Treaty.

    We don’t worry about China taking our resources, because we’ll all be dead if they try that on (MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction) probably at the hands of trigger happy idiots like Bush.

    We criticize our friends, because we want them to stop making mistakes that are causing the rest of the world to suffer. Look deep at what you do and ask yourself if there isn’t a better way to do it that doesn’t require conspicuous/wasteful consumption.

  • avatar
    John Williams

    How do I miss the point? I work in manufacturing, process and quality all over the world. I have seen absolutely nothing that makes the American experience unique enough to justify the continued use of full-size pickup trucks.

    Apparently, others do. Otherwise, the pickup truck would fade away from the market similarly to the station wagon, although CAFE regs had a heavy hand in that (and ended up spawning the station wagon’s replacement, the SUV).

    People will have far less to say about pickups once they cease being surrogates for the muscle car era (where else can you get a RWD V8-powered car with 300+ horsepower for nearly pennies on the dollar?) and return to being the bare-bones rubber-floored plain jane vehicles they used to be, used by people who really needed them.

  • avatar
    John Williams

    A flat tax won’t bother the Manhattanite who does not own a car and benefits from public transport. At best, he’ll be merely annoyed that his triple grande mocha latte now costs $10 instead of $8. He won’t know why and he won’t care.

    Meanwhile, the farmers out in Iowa and Kansas, along with truckers tasked with bringing goods into the big cities will be positively pissed off that they have to pay the gas tax on top of whatever other taxes are levied (CO2, NoX, etc) just to gas up their work vehicles. At best, the costs get passed down to the Manhattanite’s latte. At worse…..well, the corporate farming and trucking operations don’t really have to worry about passing costs along. The small-fry operations do. Owner-operator truckers park them for good, and family farms foreclose, just before they’re snapped up by corporate outfits.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ John Williams

    People will have far less to say about pickups once they cease being surrogates for the muscle car era (where else can you get a RWD V8-powered car with 300+ horsepower for nearly pennies on the dollar?) and return to being the bare-bones rubber-floored plain jane vehicles they used to be, used by people who really needed them.

    Thank you. This makes a lot of sense to me.

  • avatar
    ronin

    Firstly, before proposing draconian rules on citizens, Friedman must show the good his previous proposals has wrought. He must demonstrate credibiilty and a successful track record, else he’s just one more blabberer, just like me.

    It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit…and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior

    Perhaps Mr Friedman can point us to the spot in the Constitution where it is the duty and the authority of the federal government to shape consumer behavior. And while at it, he can point out where an appropriation for something, anything, by congress automatically results in an obligation to exploit an opportunity to shape consumer behavior. Finally, Mr. Friedman can explain to us how it was Congress that ‘pumped’ 13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit, and not in fact the executive branch of the US Treasury that did it, as reported by his own paper.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    A tax is not the answer to our energy conservation issues. The only way to do it is to engage in a cultural and societal change that will alter buying and traveling habits.…

    That is correct, regarding the change in habits. But how to do so in a equitable manner? Like it or not, there is a”need” for pickups, although many are no doubt purchased on desire. So be it, if that what the buyer wants. If you want to discourage this type of inefficient choice, the cost of operation must go up. Seems to me that the method used to do that should have maximal effect on the desired target (thirsty vehicles) and a minimal effect on efficient ones. The only way to do that is to tie costs of operation into the vehicles’ consumption of fuel, whether that be through registration or at the time of purchase. Hitting everybody with a high gas tax, is unfair, even if would achieve the desired results.

  • avatar
    ptr2void

    All of these pro-tax NYT columns can only mean one thing…Obama’s incoming administration is prepping us for a nice, big gas tax hike. These are all just trial balloons being floated by people like David Axelrod through their proxies in the media.

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    I don’t have time this morning to comment other than to echo PeteMoran and others who are pro-gas tax.

    Also, the US economy is no longer agrarian. Please stop citing Farmers in Iowa when arguing for or against a gas tax.

    Finally, I am personally going to view the majority of unsubstantiated opinions here as post-Christmas brain cramps being worked out in real time on the internet. The amount of knee-jerking present in these comments has affected the planet’s rotation http://uk.reuters.com/article/burningIssues/idUKTRE4BR1DC20081229.

  • avatar
    nonce

    (and an economist is the last person we should be listening to at this point thanks to the economic mess we’re currently in)

    I’m asking the old crone down the street what to invest in. So far I’ve lost 60% in augering animals, but at least I haven’t cast my lot with economists!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I do wish the moderator would send a warning out when people say things like “permanent socio-economic shithole like Europe”.

    This kind of inflammatory language is unnecessarily rude and pointless. RF, would you allow people to diss the U.S. in the same way?

  • avatar
    geeber

    PeteMoran: We have a health care system, a pensions system and superannuation (401) system probably superior to many other countries. We don’t feel like we are burdened with taxes, you are rewarded if you work hard. You can even drive a selection of V8s on excellent roads.

    Yes, it’s a miracle what a country can do when it relies on the U.S. to do the heavy lifting on defense.

    And, “You’re welcome.”

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ geeber

    Yes, it’s a miracle what a country can do when it relies on the U.S. to do the heavy lifting on defense.

    If you feel that way, then I’m sure we’ll be happy to buy the superior MiG fighters, especially as the US project we’re already paying for is so late and over-budget as is usual with US defense contractors.

    According to Jane’s Defense Weekly (my employer is a subscriber) Australia spends ~ US $685 per person on defense while the USA is spending $890 per person during war (and I think you KNOW what the current war in Iraq is costing). Maybe we level off about equal; wouldn’t that annoy you.

    We’re well above the average, but far below the biggest spender (Israel) $1487/person.

    In Australia we’re grateful to the USA for protection provided, Thank You. It’s always good to have a sort-of superpower on your side than not I guess.

    Now would you please stop making world shattering financial mistakes.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    Austrailian experts on USA vehicle mores:

    Next time you are driving across Wyoming, seeing all those unnecessary F-150′s and their mutant cousins, think about driving ACROSS Austrailia in a 1500 lb econobox.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ jackc10

    …think about driving ACROSS Austrailia in a 1500 lb econobox.

    It’s far too dangerous to go driving across Australia in anything smaller than a Kenworth.

    1500lbs wouldn’t handle the 300lbs of “bull” (or roo)-bar required to handle all the kangaroos you collide with. It’s a miracle the kangaroo injury rate is so low in the main city streets normally.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    I have to agree with Pete Moran. Once you subtract out the percentage of the population who farm and are in the manual trades, you are still left with a very large number of people who have bought into the pickup lifestyle. To me, an extended cab pick up harks back to an early ’50s full size sedan – with the trunk lid ripped off. God bless ya if you want one, but whatinhell are you thinking?

    ps – my Dad’s roofing crews never used pickups – extended Ford Econolines instead. My farmer father-in-law never had a pickup while working. When he retired, he got a old small Ranger to putter around in.

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    In my experience, the people who complain most loudly about the price of fuel are the ones unnecessarily driving SUVs and Trucks as everyday transport

    Like the guy I work with that drives a Dodge Ram dualie with a Cummings turbo diesel that gets something like 15mpg to work everyday. Just to sit at a desk in an office and shuffle paper.

    He has to park further away and watching him drive through city traffic in that monster is laughable.

    Yeah he hauls a horse trailer for fun occasionally and maybe he has some personal reason other than a horse to haul stuff but it sure isn’t a work vehicle 5 days a week. Most of the time its sitting in the parking lot here at work doing nothing. At most he tows stuff on the weekend.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Pete,

    If you want to be friends, don’t call our President names. That’s for us to do.

    Likewise, if your problem is not with the pick-up truck, but with it’s being chosen in lieu of a car by people who don’t need one, then don’t pick on the pick-up. There is a simple reason for most of those choices – government meddling. There are all sorts of rules and regulations that make the truck a better choice given the alternatives in our country.

    As for your fine country, I really don’t know that much about it, but I do know not all your compatriots would be happy with your foreign policy plan which seems to be that if the Chinese want to invade, don’t do anything about it? Funny thing about our friends the Canadians, every successful one I met was quick to agree that they are beneficiaries of our military. The average cannuck on the street OTOH, was all aboat how we spend too much on our army. Ignorance is bliss.

    I also know that my airplane isn’t welcome in Australia, so I will spend my tourist dollars elsewhere. I don’t go to Chicago anymore either, just so you realize that I am quick to boycott folks who aren’t GA friendly.

  • avatar
    Whuffo2

    These suggestions (Friedman isn’t the only one pushing a gas tax) to increase taxes now while the country is in a recession are first class lunacy.

    Like it or not, automobiles and trucks are required to live and work in most parts of this country. That’s how the workers get to their jobs. How is increasing their transportation expense going to help the economy?

    Talk of smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles is nice but Joe Average can’t afford to buy one and can’t borrow the money to buy one either.

    All this new (and regressive) tax will do is take even more money out of the average person’s pocket. That’s money they won’t be spending to buy other things, so business takes another hit so that government can have more tax revenue.

    Where do these economists get their degrees from, anyway?

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Golden2Husky,

    Okay, you are making a rational argument. I have to say that if the result is not more important than the fairness, then don’t enact ANY rule. CAFE, or any other scheme, hasn’t or won’t work. Also, I would say that for folks who use a truck in work, they will simply pass on the tax to the employer or customer. We aren’t currently in danger of inflation, so what’s the problem? How much is too much money per month for people to pay in gasoline taxes? I have made the point that almost EVERYONE who could possibly complain about the amount already gets much more than that amount in tax credits or other government funds. It’s not THEIR money that we are really taking and I would bet dollars to donuts that the new congress would simply use this as an excuse to raise the doll more than anyone could possibly drive off.

    Concerning a different argument…

    Obviously, it would be a bad time to drastically raise the gas tax, but that’s not an argument against it, that’s an argument against doing it now, or against doing it suddenly. Don’t make that argument unless you concede that it’s actually a good idea. Save the “not now” argument for when it’s decided to proceed unless your are just trying to win the argument rather than come up with the best solution. Then, by all means demagogue away.

  • avatar
    capdeblu

    The only new taxes I could be for would be on gasoline or cigarettes. Say a .25 a gallon tax on gas and reduce some other tax–like the sales tax. Where I live it is 8.5%. This is way too high.

  • avatar

    Aren’t governments already complaining about the lack of tax revenue becuase of the drop in fuel usage caused by this summers flirtation with $5/gal?

    Typical government, place a tax on something to get us to use less, then complain when tax revenue falls when exactly that happens.

    I think the same thing is happening with cigarette taxes funding healthcare…

  • avatar
    tedg

    @ Droid800
    Your comment “A tax is not the answer to our energy conservation issues. The only way to do it is to engage in a cultural and societal change that will alter buying and traveling habits.”
    What actions do you propose to bring about societal changes on a scale that would reduce our addiction to foreign oil? Up to this time, it seems the cost of fuel and the financial meltdown has been the only effective way to change the behavior of most of us.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    A tax is not the answer to our energy conservation issues. The only way to do it is to engage in a cultural and societal change that will alter buying and traveling habits.

    Taxation policies do modify behavior, particularly when the tax rates are very high or very low.

    If a government has a policy to reduce some type of consumption, a high consumption tax on that good is undoubtedly the most efficient and effective way to implement the policy. The cost discourages the behavior, and the enforcement becomes self-regulating; people reduce the consumption because they don’t want to pay for it. This has been proven time and time again, there is no arguing its effectiveness.

    The dip in gas prices is temporary. Everyone (except for Friedman) knows it, and everyone knows that prices will rise when the economy starts to recover and demand increases.

    This is also false. There is no consensus about this at all. Some of the extreme peak oilers may believe this, but many of us who aren’t extremists do not.

    It is fair to debate peak oil, but it is unreasonable to assume that everyone buys off on the doomsday version of it that is so popular on the internet.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    In place of the $500 billion or so spent in Iraq (ignoring all the other oil-related defense spending), what if we committed $500 billion to advanced energy research, including a mix of X-Prize-style competitions?

    Or, what if the governemnt just didn’t spend it at all. Here’s a radical idea for this board, what if we let the people who earned the money use it as they saw fit to do? You may call me a neo-nazi, fascist pig now.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Why is it that a tax that is not “progressive” is automatically “regressive”? I don’t think that is correct. A flat tax, a head tax, and a gas tax are not regressive, they just aren’t progressive. Right?

    This has gone too far. No one here has even tried to debate the point that the wealthy, through direct and indirect methods pay much higher amounts of the fuel taxes.

    If you care at all about getting things right, you are going to have to stop jumping over the important steps like defining your assumptions objectively.

  • avatar
    fortension

    Ug. How many of you have twenty plus years of experience at your difficult, highly-skilled job, only to have people come in off the street and tell you that you’re doing your job wrong and you’re stupid. Economists get it all the time.

    Almost no one is suggesting we raise taxes (there are a few nut jobs that are suggesting we balance the budget this year). What is being discussed is how we generate our tax revenue. We can keep giving away large amounts of money to unfriendly (at best) countries, keep us unprepared for when the price spikes again, and get our tax revenue from discouraging work and investment. Or, we can start generating more tax revenue from those people that want to financially support those unfriendly countries and let people that work and save in the US keep more of their money.

    @ Landcrusher:
    By definition, taxes are regressive, proportional or progressive, and proportional taxes are pretty much impossible to engineer.
    All the research done on gas taxes show that they are regressive. It doesn’t make for a good debate.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    fortension,
    There are plenty of professions that get armchaired all the time. Given the expression, I guess the generals and quarterbacks get to claim the worst case positions. The problem economists have is two fold. First, you all agree on 80% of things, but you always talk about the other 20%. I can usually find an economist to disagree with another economist. Second, you are pretty much like the meteorologists only your subject reads your prognostications and then goes about screwing them up.

    I don’t think the rest of us (especially on the fiscally conservative/libertarian side) would agree on the definition used for regressive if your statement about studies is correct. Perhaps you could enlighten us on your working definition of regressive. Also, it may help to tell us why a flat tax isn’t proportional, and a sales tax isn’t proportional.


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