This Year: "Bring on the lactose-powered vehicles, please."
(To read the original article from which I am ranting, Click Here.)
The title of the article in question is "Gas Prices High -- But Not High Enough."
I rarely click on the links in my Hotmail, but that one just begged for a chance to explain itself.
The article, written by David Kiley for BusinessWeek.com, has one basic premise: The U.S. should institute a bipartisan dollar-per-gallon tax on fuel to "encourage" people to eschew their SUV's in favor of more fuel-economic (or fuel-alternative) vehicles, which would in turn lessen U.S. dependence on OPEC.
But apparently politicians are reluctant, because according to some polls, "no tax increase would be more unpopular with voters than a gas-tax increase."
Well, gee, let's see if we can't figure out why that is, hmmm?
Everything has become considerably more expensive as fuel has continued to go up in price. So for me, Mr. Lowly Consumer Guy, the cost is not just at the gas station, but everywhere else as well. (Diesel has been going up in price right alongside regular gasoline, and diesel trucks are the lifeblood of the U.S.'s domestic commerce.) This is because companies are not going to just "eat the cost" of higher fuel, so they pass the lack of savings onto the customer.
What's ironic is that everyone's trying to pass the buck on higher fuel costs (I can't tell you how many of the companies we deal with have raised their prices because of it). I'm far from an economic guru, but I think this vicious cycle only leads to a form of inflation, with the end purchaser (e.g., us) picking up the tab. Even with my recent raise, it's not enough to fully offset the increased cost of living as a result.
So imagine how much worse it would be at an additional dollar per gallon.
We're already not going to as many places because of high gas prices. We stay home. A lot. And what disposable income we might have spent at local stores, restaurants, or what have you, now goes directly to our gas tank. So those businesses get the shaft as well. Which can't be good.
And I'm not even driving an SUV. I'm actually driving a high fuel-economy car. Good thing, too, or there's no WAY we could afford to go anywhere. It's already painful to pay $40 to fill our tank. I can't imagine upping that to $52.
Part of what bothers me about it is that it's a flat tax based on usage, meaning the wealthy can still afford to galavant around while the economically challenged are pretty much forced to stay home. What's worse is the "good fuel economy" vehicles and alternate fuel or hybrid vehicles are NOT affordable to the people who would need them most (if the dollar a gallon tax happened.)
And there have been attempts by the Board of Tourism to encourage people to take roadtrips, but that ain't gonna happen at $4+ dollars a gallon. I mean, a simple eight-hour round trip excursion in our vehicle (which again is fuel efficient) would cost over ninety bucks in fuel alone. (I don't make that much in a day.) I also think the dollar tax isn't taking into consideration the widely varying cost of living within the continental U.S. alone. (From what I can tell, standard pay rates can average anywhere from eight bucks to twenty bucks, depending just on where you live.) A dollar fee in California would not hurt as much as a dollar fee in, say, Kentucky. (DISCLAIMER: I was aiming for two vastly different "cost of living" ranges and am not making any kind of statement about the residents of either locale.)
I realize the "goal" of this endeavor would be to get everyone to buy new vehicles, but at what cost? We can't afford to go out and buy a different vehicle, and I'm willing to be that neither could many other people. And what becomes of the millions and millions of SUV's, pickups, sportcars, and other vehicles whose mileages aren't up to snuff? Just create some more landfills and junkyards? That'll look nice. Let's see a show of hands of volunteers to have that in their backyard.
Of course, that's not the real point. My point is that our economy is already out of whack, and trying to force a paradigm shift in vehicular purchases doesn't strike me as the most stable scenario. And whatever good might be done with the dollar tax (which sounds so much more innocuous when called that), it does change the fact that it's basically negative reinforcement, a monetary "slap on the wrist" for buying petroleum-based goods.
Oh! Which reminds me. Why aren't we putting a tax on plastic, hmmm? I've seen no major price hikes for Rubbermaid™ goods, or kid's toys, or all the other plastic knick-knacks that I would sooner trade in before the ability to travel. I get bits of plastic in the form of credit card offers all the time; why not charge them? Punish them for wasting petroleum in such a manner. (Yeah, I know it's a smaller amount, but it's all percentages anyway, right?)
Not that I want to see that happen, I'm just pointing out what I consider to be the inherent hypocrisy of the proposal. I take issue anytime something is taxed for the express purpose of making someone think, "Dang! Can I afford that?" (Especially since it ultimately just limits availability to the wealthy, or else takes an inordinate chunk of income from the non-wealthy.) Exorbitant taxes on alcohol hasn't created a teetotaler society; it's merely sucked some people dry financially, while preventing others from partaking on a more casual basis.
But even if one is a fan of the whole "taxing as a means of behavior modification" system, I would rather it stayed in the current realm of luxuries, like alcohol, cigarettes, pop, candy, etc. To me, when it interferes with one's existence and livelihood, it has crossed the line.
The article mentions that "it worked in the Europe Union." Yeah, and? This is not meant as a knock on the European Union, or on the United States, but I think I speak for many on both sides when I say, "the EU is not the US." That is not some kind of nationalistic claim; it just is what it is.
The geographical, political, social, and economic makeup of the European Union is vastly different from the US in terms of its original underlying structure. Their public transit is unlike that of the U.S., as are locations. You wouldn't know it from certain parts of the U.S., but the U.S. is rather spread out. Just take a look at a satellite photo of the U.S. at night. You'll see huge clusters of light on the East Coast, clusters of light on the West Coast, some clusters here and there along the Gulf, near the Great Lakes, and whatnot, but otherwise it's fairly dark in a lot of areas. And we (and here I'm referring to the Midwest) have to traverse sections of those areas, often with great frequency. And unless you live in a major metropolitan area (i.e., Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, etc...), there is little public transportation to speak of. It's you and your vehicle, whatever it might be. And it's a bit too late to move all the business, homes, and industries closer together.
And I will concede the notion that the U.S., as a nation, has brought it upon themselves. Our current layout is largely based on a scenario in which gas was a dollar per gallon. But in seven years, that has tripled. And if the dollar tax were added, it would be quadrupled. Imagine something else quadrupling in price within 7-8 years. That would be like if the twelve-dollar pizza you bought in 2000, now cost you fifty bucks. Or if the fifty-dollar coat you bought back then now cost two hundred. And the fifty cent payphone? Now it's two dollars. I don't know about you, but my available income hasn't exactly quadrupled since then.
Anyway, to get away from that tangent... I'm not saying the tactic wouldn't work, because eventually it would. And if you made everyone wear lead weights on their feet, eventually riverdancing would be eliminated as well. But is the means worth the end? While I'm thinking about it, here are some other measures that could be introduced for the Benefit Of All™:
- Blinding every other person, thereby increasing awareness for those with impaired vision, thereby increasing the availability of assistance, whether it be seeing eye dogs, spoken captions on TV, or more braille.
- Requiring people to vote in elections before they can drink, get married, buy cigarettes, or rent a car; instead of "Can I see some I.D.?" it would be "Can I see your voter registration card?" (Or if they've lost their voter registration card, then their "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For So-And-So" bumper sticker.) Though this would increase voter turnout, the downside to this idea is that politicians would focus primarily* on drinking, marriage, tobacco, and car rental policies.
- Giving significant tax breaks to individuals willing to run in a giant hamster ball to work, which would not only encourage people to get in better shape, but would also create a new fanbase for that timeless TV classic, "American Gladiators".
(* - No pun intended.)
I guess the point I was trying to make (before it spiraled into absurdity toward the end there) is that while I agree with the stance that the United States needs to actively work toward better fuel economy and less dependence on petroleum, I really don't think screwing over the lower income populace is the best solution. It would be one thing if we all lived in vast metropolitan centers where buses, trains, trolleys, taxis, or even bike trails were plentiful. But we don't. Nor would it be fair to only tax the areas that do, either, because then it's like they're being penalized for having those systems in place.
Do I have a better solution? Not at the moment, no. But that doesn't mean this is the right one to go with. (After all, I'm not going to try solving the local beetle problem by unleashing a horde of praying mantises just because "I don't have a better solution.")
I understand where the article is coming from. I just happen to totally, utterly, and fervently disagree with the sentiment. But I'm more than willing to listen to any counter-arguments, or if anyone can point out something that pokes holes in my own arguments, feel free. As long as it's civil and free of name-calling, I'm open to debate. (Though I have to say it would probably take quite a convincing argument.)
Okay, I'm done. No more soapbox for me.