LESSER OF EVILS

Brad DeLong notes that

John Irons points to a new Congressional Budget Office study saying that auto fuel-economy standards are a much worse policy than a gasoline tax.

But what is a gasoline tax worse than?

Even aside from libertarian arguments, I’d be interested in seeing analysis on the impact of increased gasoline taxes. Presumably, at some point, people would indeed gravitate toward more fuel efficient vehicles, including even motorcycles or scooters. But these vehicles are generally much less safe than the larger vehicles, including SUVs, that they’d displace. Is the decreased consumption of a reasonably abundant natural resource a worthy tradeoff?

My general preference would be to let the market decide these things. But if we decide that this is sufficiently important to require government intervention, then wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our efforts to coming up with alternative technologies? For example, subsidizing research into hydrogen-powered vehicles and the necessary infrastructure setup costs that would accompany the transition?

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ravi Nanavati says:

    Locally (i.e. for the driver and passengers inside the SUV) SUVs may improve safety, but globally (for *all* people on the roads) recent research suggests they are significant net negative (this article claims a 1:4 ratio:
    http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/~hal/people/hal/NYTimes/2003-12-18.html

    – i.e. four people outside an SUV/light-truck killed for every one inside the SUV/light-truck saved).

  2. James Joyner says:

    But that’s mainly a function of the fact that the other four are in a less safe vehicle. They’d have been better off in an SUV!

    I’m not an SUV owner, driving instead a sports sedan. I’ve made trade-offs in fuel economy and safety for comfort and handling. In a free society, people get to make those trade-offs themselves.

  3. The thing I always find amusing is that any time gasoline tops $2 a gallon, politicians ALWAYS start investigations into collusion, price gouging, etc., but never mention the fact that (in California), when gasoline is that expensive, about 60 cents of it is in taxes.

    Anyway, my point is that there is a magic $2 threshold where consumers rebel, no matter what the reason, hence the reason why these investigations start at that price and why the feds can’t add a gasoline tax that goes above that amount for the time being.

  4. John Lemon says:

    I’m betting this debate will be moot within a year when everyone will own a Segway.

  5. And, of course, we will use our Segways for transport to/from work, and for all errands–especially grocery shopping 😉