Hey! Congress! Leave Those Cars Alone!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Yes, well, it's a bit a late to be singing that refrain, what with the new Energy Bill slapping a 35 by 2020 bumper sticker on every legislator and carmaker's ass. Still, as Shakespeare once said, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip; substitute "loopholes" and "federal court cases" for "slip" and you've got a pretty clear picture of what lies ahead. Meanwhile, conservative thinkers have suddenly woken from their torpor to explain why the new federal fuel economy regulations (such as they aren't) aren't such a good idea. Cato Institute senior [good] fellows Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren attack the underlying principle that automobile manufacturers are fuel economy foot draggers. "Automakers… would hardly be more ignorant than the casual observers at the Sierra Club and Rep. Nancy Pelosi's office about how much money they're leaving on the table. Suffice it to say this argument suggests that consumers are indeed getting exactly the kind of cars that they want." They also point out that consumers have valid priorities– which don't jibe with global warming crusaders. "They don't like the fact that many consumers seem to like other attributes — such as vehicle size and acceleration — that mitigate against fuel economy." After suggesting that a fuel tax would be the best way to correct so-called "market failures," Taylor and Van Doren put the [stillborn] fuel economy debate to bed. "For many, however, there is no such thing as too much energy conservation, and society always gains the less we consume. But if that were true, why not just ban cars from the road altogether?" Where were you guys six months ago?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Quasimondo Quasimondo on Dec 27, 2007
    The reality is that politicians are terrified of the popular backlash that would occur by increasing gas taxes. As they should be. I already pay enough in sales tax, income tax, telecommunications tax, fees, tolls, surcharges, and fines and whatever other way the government wants to pull money from hard-working American citizens such as myself. I might support a gas tax if they did away with income taxes and other major drains on my wallet. Otherwise, I see no good reason to support shooting money into a black hole to support worthless pork-barrel projects designed to give congressmen and senators brownie points in their home districts.
  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Dec 28, 2007

    Re quasimondo, directly above: a gas--or better, a carbon--tax should be accompanied by some sort of commensurate relief. But it should be enacted. I suspect that as it becomes clearer what a disaster global heating is going to be that a carbon tax will gain political traction. The new CAFE standards would be a lot of fun to satirize, if only I had the time.

  • Quasimondo Quasimondo on Dec 28, 2007

    But it won't be accompanied by any relief, whatsoever. I don't think people understand that.

  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on Dec 28, 2007

    quasimondo - Excellent point. Arthur Laffer once said that if you want less of something, tax it more. Sure, a fuel tax would reduce consumption. It would also hit the middle and lower income households much harder causing reduced spending and slowing the overall economy. The likelihood is that sooner or later, a gas tax will be enacted (by people living off the government teet), but it would likely damage consumer confidence and reduce overall spending. This would make an already shaky economy much worse. How about tax incentives for buying more fuel efficient cars? And not just the hybrids... anything that gets over 30 mpg should get an incentive. Keep bumping the number up every year.