Rationing? Even better

Gas1"Look!" wrote my colleague Mike Fitts in an e-mail yesterday. "– an idea even less popular than your huge gas tax hike!"

"And even better, in my book," I wrote back.

He was referring to this letter on today’s page:

After reading Mike Fitts’ excellent column, (“U.S. helping to keep
oil prices marching upward,” Friday) on the woeful consequences, both
economic and diplomatic, of rising oil prices and of the inevitable oil
shortages to come, I’d like to put another option on the table: oil
rationing, which could bring a variety of benefits.

Many lament the fact that the only ones called upon to sacrifice in
this time of war are those on the front lines (and their families).
Rationing gas would call on everyone to sacrifice, just as during World
War II, when we all had ration cards, not only for oil but for many
other of life’s necessities such as meat, clothing and tires.

Fitts tells us that demand for fuel keeps going up, despite the
steadily rising price, which means leaving it to the market to control
supply and demand isn’t working. So perhaps only the government can
bring this control.

Fitts also points out that since our country consumes 25 percent of
the world’s oil, we can’t lecture other countries on the need to
conserve. But we can lead by example.

Rationing could give us some short-term breathing space as we labor
to find alternatives for the long haul. Yes, it is a political hot
potato, but isn’t it time to at least bring it to the table for


Mike was also referring to my enthusiasm for the idea floated by such disparate voices as Charles Krauthammer, Tom Friedman and Jim Hoagland, advocating a huge increase in the federal gas tax to take the already uncomfortably high gasoline pump prices high enough to depress demand. This would in turn create an oversupply, driving down prices. But (at least in the variant I like), you’d keep the tax rate up and use it additional for such sensible things as reducing the deficit, paying for a Manhattan/Apollo-style project to find and develop viable alternatives to petroleum, and pay for other aspects of our underfunded war — you know, like, put enough troops into Iraq and Afghanistan to get the job done. And note that I call military operations "other aspects" of the war. Reducing our energy dependence and taming deficits are as important to our strategic position as our ability to project force.

Oh, yes: Krauthammer would use the revenue to cut some other tax. But he has to say that; he’s a neocon.

Former Rep. Keyserling’s idea is even better in one respect — everyone would share the pain. With a high tax, the rich would keep on driving Hummers, and the poor would have a lot of trouble getting to work. The main benefit would occur among the middle class, who would make the choice of driving less and, when they bought a car, buying a much more fuel-efficient one. With rationing, everyone would be limited in their consumption. And it would be a more overt, deliberate way of saying, "We’re all in this together, and we’re doing something about it together," rather than letting the market pressure of high prices sort things out.

But then, it wouldn’t produce the revenue. So I qualify my flippant remark to Mike: The higher tax still might be better.

18 thoughts on “Rationing? Even better

  1. Lee

    It’s no surprise to see moderates cheering the socialist policies of rationing. Neither one of them understand the basic laws of supply and demand, even when they live through the fiascos of rationing under Jimmy Carter. Socialism requires rationing of everything, from food to medical care.
    Rationing, by breaking the price mechanism used by producers and brokers to plan investments and production, actually creates more shortages.
    Neo-socialists don’t care. It takes power from the pocketbooks of consumers and places it the control of politicians and bureaucrats.

  2. VietVet

    I really am not alarmed by higher gas prices. I have two vehicles, a Ford Explorer, costing $.15 a mile, a Cadillac Deville costing $.12 a mile at current gas prices.

    I fill the Caddy every 6 weeks and the Explorer every other week. Both cars are paid for so my only expense is gas and maintenance. I am a happy camper and don’t see a need for gas rationing.

  3. Dave

    Brad, do you also want to bring Jimmy Carter back as President. I thought I misread when you mentioned rationing. Rationing control by the federal government is absolutely the worst idea anyone could imagine. I went through the Carter rationing, and his misery index. And I can assure you I would not wish that on any American. Gas prices need to go high enough to where the buying public rations on their own. Lets keep the FEMA idiots and the rest of the incompetent Fed bureaucrats out of the gas control business.

  4. David

    Dave wrote “Gas prices need to go high enough to where the buying public rations on their own”
    LOL – I’d love to see that happen in COlumbia. They’d have to add bus routes to Spring Valley and Wildwood.
    Not going to happen Dave in cities like COlumbia where public transportation isn’t really an option for a lot of people. Mobile society requires us to drive. My business requires that I drive. Gas could be $30 a gallon and I’d have to drive. I just pass it on to people like you and listen to you cuss and complain about why a DVD that was $9.99 is now $59.99.

  5. Dave

    David, when gas prices get high enough to be painful, people will car pool to work and reduce unnecessary trips. I can tell you my daughters for example would think nothing of several trips to a Blockbuster in one day to select different movies. Wasteful, you bet. Market forces will handle the demand side of higher gas prices. It will not be pain free but it will happen. For example, if lobster went to $50 a pound, how often would you buy it. There it is.

  6. David

    ahh, but it wouldn’t be just lobster at $50 Dave. It would be bread at $15, butter at $6.95 for half a pound, that soap would be $8.00 a bar. Going to buy a filter to keep your furnance working would cost you $35.
    I am going to drive if gas is $30 a gallon as I said. I am not going to cut back 1 bit. I can’t. Like I said, I’ll have to pay it – I’ll pass it on to people that are more fortunate than me – and less fortunate than me and I sell something most of them have to have by law so it won’t be an option for them to stop buying it.
    The problem with your idea of gas prices having to rise high enough to cause people to ration on their own is that it will hurt so many people tragically – and the people most likely to be hurt or the ones that will least likely be able to handle it or recover from it.
    It won’t hurt me so bad. It ain’t fun for me but I’ll still make it to the doctor If I have to. I’ll still get to the hardware store and buy something to repair something with my air conditioner or stove. But some people won’t be able to do it. They’ll take a chance. It might work out- it might not.
    Your daughters missing a few rentals from Blockbuster won’t be the issue.

  7. Lee

    Left to a free market, prices will rise enough to end the frivolous consumption of fuel.
    If you want the government to do something, they can suspend new road construction and all new sewer and water lines which subsidize development at the edge of town.
    Perhaps living costs here will make it unattractive to illegal immigrants working for low wages. What a good side effect that would be, and just think of the fuel savings from the deportation of 20,000,000 illegals who drive old junker cars.

  8. Lee

    Exxon makes between 5 and 6 cents profit per gallon of gasoline.
    The governments make 40 cents profit per gallon on their taxes, without making any investment.
    If 5 cents profit is obscene, what is a 40 cent tax?

  9. Charlie

    Brad Warthen is an economic illiterate.
    Rationing and price controls have never worked. They failed miserably under Nixon and Carter.
    Stupid stupid stupid.

  10. Herb

    I had just moved to Germany at the time, but I don’t recall any rationing under Nixon. Has fuel been actually rationed here since WWII?

  11. BLSaiken

    What is referred to as “rationing” was rationing by non-availability, i.e., gas station shutdowns. What is occurring now is rationing by price, i.e., if you can’t pay $ 38 for a fill-up (I actually did, for my ’97 Honda Accord yesterday in Columbia), you don’t get it.

  12. Herb

    Then it wasn’t rationing. A shortage is something different. Rationing is dealing out according to a pre-determined plan, in order to attempt to deal with a shortage fairly. There are very few people left in our country who have experienced it.

  13. Lee

    Jimmy Carter imposed several forms of gasoline rationing on a state-by-state basis, based on farming there. That was one of the things which created shortages in urban areas.

  14. BLSaiken

    Lee, how was what Carter did different from what Sonny Perdue did in the aftermath of Katrina last year, when he tried to reallocate gasoline supplies away from school transportation systems to farming? Sounds like the same thing to me.

  15. Robert

    Rationing could work if used properly and what about stop building so many gas stations? We have to hurt the oil companies where they feel it the most. Let’s act together.

  16. Lee

    Sonny Perdue and Carter were both wrong, Carter just on a much more grandiose scale.
    I would like Robert to explain why 5 cents gross profit per gallon is so excessive.
    The quickest way to reduce gasoline prices is to repeal some of the 40 to 60 cents per gallon in taxes.

  17. J Birch

    I care about the rising gas prices. When oil was about $56 – $58 a gallon we were paying 2.05+/-. Then oil goes to $58 – $60 a gallon and we pay $2.15+/-. $60 – $62 and we pay $2.25+/-. And $62+ we pay pay $2.35 +/-. Why is oil @ $56 – $57 and we are still paying $2.35+? We are getting ripped of by the oil companies who are looking to make another $10 billion in profit this quarter. So yeah, I care and am pretty damn mad too!

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