Krauthammer bravely pushes the Energy Party line

Enjoyed this Charles Krauthammer piece over the weekend:

For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s nowaround $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a 10- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax….

A $1 gas tax increase would constrain oil consumption in two ways. In the short run, by curbing driving. In the long run, by altering car-buying habits. A return to gas-guzzling land yachts occurs every time gasoline prices plunge. A high gas tax encourages demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Constrained U.S. consumption — combined with already huge increases in U.S. production — would continue to apply enormous downward pressure on oil prices….

Quixotic, yes. But I stand up and cheer whenever anyone has the courage to speak sense on the gas tax.

I don’t know whether his FICA rollback is the best thing to do with the money. I’d like to see some serious investment in infrastructure. But it doesn’t matter. Raising the gas tax and using the money unwisely is actually better than not raising it at all, for the reasons Krauthammer cites.

By the way, in praising Krauthammer for being so Energy Party, I don’t mean to claim he got the idea from me. As he says, he’s been pushing this uncommon sense idea for 32 years. The Energy Party has only been around for a fourth as long.

But of course, the odds against us are as great as ever. Too many on both the left and the right hate the idea of gas tax increases. But at least there’s something afoot in Congress…

43 thoughts on “Krauthammer bravely pushes the Energy Party line

  1. Juan Caruso

    “For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.” – C.K.

    Ironic confessions from some highly placed, influential supporters of AGW (sourced from the NYT [Friedman] and Forbes) shed startling honesty on truer purposes behind the AGW scare:

    IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer admitted in November 2010, “…one has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. Instead, climate change policy is about how we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth…”

    Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment, told editors and reporters of the Calgary Herald in 1998, “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony…climate change [provides] the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.”

    Former Senator Timothy Wirth, then representing the Clinton-Gore administration as Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs …
    “We have got to ride the global warming issue.” In an interview with PBS Frontline Wirth recounted: “We called the Weather Bureau and found out what was historically the hottest day of the summer…so we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo, it was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it…we went in the night before and opened all the windows so that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room.” Wirth later headed the U.N. Foundation which lobbies for hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to help underdeveloped countries fight climate change.

    November 24, 2009, Thomas Friedman in the NYT ….
    “The energy, climate, water and pollution implications of adding another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, clothe, house and transport will be staggering. And this is coming, unless, as the deniers apparently believe, a global pandemic or a mass outbreak of abstinence will freeze world population — forever.”

    Give me a break with this hoax for the latest pool of $$$ conceived for availability to crooked pols and the litigation industry.

  2. Mike Cakora

    The Hammer’s suggestion is based on his assumption / prediction / argument that the gas tax increase swap for the FICA would be revenue neutral. Hardly. Past Congresses have whizzed away the Social Security “surplus,” filling the lockbox with IOUs that can only be redeemed by refueling the general fund with higher taxes elsewhere. They’ll do the same as long as they control the purse strings.

    As for the Highway Trust Fund, transportation funding bills have turned into Five-Year Porkuluses with 25% or so going down the highway to hell rather than transportation infrastructure folks actually drive on. It’s “free” money, so let’s build high-speed rail, parking garages in Bozeman, Montana and the like.

    Who here trusts our state’s solons to do the right thing? Then how can you expect elected officeholders at the federal level to get within a grenade throw of gittin’ it right?

    What we need is a new revenue source like oil royalties. Open up state and federal lands to exploration and extraction, then charge a market-based per barrel fee. Rescue Social Security that way. Any talk of “revenue-neutral” swaps has proved to be fantasy.

  3. Harry Harris

    I suppose we should let the working poor run their cars on cake. I’m pretty sure Mr Krautheimer doesn’t know any of them personally. A steep increase increase in gasoline prices is inherently regressive. Lower wage folks generally own older, less gas-friendly cars. They can’t go out and buy new, thrifty ones, though they eventually would get the ones passed down as my friends join me driving 50 mpg Priuses. Their travel, both for work and pleasure, would be restricted.
    The other objection I have with Dr K’s “revenue neutral” proposal is the other part of the tax shift. Many of his allies have looked for ways to destroy and privatize Social Security for years. The more they weaken the trust fund and shift funding to general tax revenues (the discretionary budget) the easier it is to tout it as a welfare or “entitlement” program, and more easily dispensed with. Even as regressive as the FICA tax is now, a 2% cut in it benefits a $106K per year salary earner 7 times more than a minimum wage worker ($2000 to $300) .
    I do favor a 2-3 cent per gallon increase in the federal tax, aimed at infra structure improvement as well as a 8-10 cent increase in SC gas tax with the same intent.
    Krautheimer offers a shell game, pitched to benefit all and designed to win-over green-thinking comfortable folks, but tilted toward benefiting higher income taxpayers while undermining the program most successful at keeping old people out of dire poverty.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      As I said, too many on both the left and the right hate the idea of gas tax increases. And on the left, it takes the form of, “I suppose we should let the working poor run their cars on cake.”

      As I said, I don’t think we should use the revenue to roll back SS. In fact, we need to increase worker contributions to the fund, starting with eliminating the absurdly regressive income-based cap.

      One way I think it would be great to spend the revenue would be on truly functional, useful transit systems that eliminate the need for the “working poor,” or any of us, to buy gasoline. I, for one, would love to be freed of the need to own, maintain and operate a motor vehicle…

      The idea of such a tax increase would be to re-engineer the way we do transportation in this country…

      That said, as I said before, just the fact of having the tax would go a long way toward reshaping our transportation habits. And too few people seriously advocate it. Which is why I applaud the fact that Krauthammer does, even though I don’t like the rest of his plan.

      I wonder whether HE is as dedicated to the idea as I am. Would he still advocate the tax if the money were put to a good use that benefits the country rather than being used to roll back a tax that is already inadequate?

      1. Doug Ross

        “One way I think it would be great to spend the revenue would be on truly functional, useful transit systems that eliminate the need for the “working poor,” or any of us, to buy gasoline. I, for one, would love to be freed of the need to own, maintain and operate a motor vehicle…”

        Which is only useful to people who live in or near a large city and want to sit on a bus.

        Columbia isn’t London and never will be.

      2. Norm Ivey

        I read several years ago about an idea to legislatively fix the price of gasoline at a certain level, and have taxes adjust automatically to reflect the difference between the actual price of gas and the set price. The thought was to remove uncertainty from transportation costs and to reduce the impact of events in the Middle East or individual players in the region. There were other benefits that were expected to follow as well.

        For example, a gallon of gas is set at $5.00. In periods like the current one where the price of gas is about $2.00, the combined state and federal tax would be $3.00 per gallon. As the price of a gallon increases to $4.00, the taxes are reduced to $1.00 per gallon. The consumer never feels the change in their budget. Industry has a predictable expense. If the Saudis throttle back production, it doesn’t impact the economy. Gas-guzzlers are discouraged.

        There was more to the proposal, but I can’t find the link. It was one of those things I thought was interesting, but had absolutely no chance of ever happening.

    2. Doug Ross

      “a 2% cut in it benefits a $106K per year salary earner 7 times more than a minimum wage worker ($2000 to $300) ”

      That’s why people should aspire to be more than minimum wage workers. There are benefits to having skills that are not replaceable by a 16 year old.

      1. Harry Harris

        Same old “bootstraps” argument that ignores reality, but is still irrelevant to the regressiviness of Krauthammer’s proposal.

    3. Kathryn Fenner

      NPR reported that low gas prices primarily benefit the well-off. Apparently, they have more fuel guzzlers, and drive them more. Go figure.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Everyone (except the petroleum companies) benefit from lower gas prices. Everything that is transported costs less. Everything that uses petroleum as an input costs less. That’s a lot of stuff.

        There’s almost no downside to lower oil prices unless you’re in the oil industry.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            And I do care about the environment. It’s possible to care about the environment but not believe in global warming. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

            I’m a Teddy Roosevelt environmentalist; not an Al Gore environmentalist. I like preservation. I’m in favor of National Parks, recycling, conservation, all that stuff. There are lots of areas that need to be preserved from development.

            The earth is not going to cook us all like a microwave because we’re driving around a lot these days.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I’m probably more of a Roosevelt than a Gore environmentalist, too. (We need to build an empire in order to protect the Earth in backward places, right? Just kidding…)

              But how do you not believe in global warming? Doesn’t the preponderance of research indicate that it’s real, and our actions have an impact on it?

              One of the more fascinating facts I recently encountered with regard to this… Starting the 16th century, we had a sort of mini-Ice Age. You know why? Because European diseases wiped out so many Indians. Before that, the Indians cultivated the Amazon region, cutting down and burning back the rain forest. When so many Indians died that they could no longer keep those levels of agricultural activities up, the rainforest took over, and lowered global temperatures.

              Eventually, as the Industrial Revolution took hold, temps started rising again.

              I read about that either in 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, or the prequel, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Fascinating books, both by Charles C. Mann.

              One of the main points made in 1491 was that recent scholarship indicates that there were many, many times as many people living in the Americas before Columbus, compared to the estimates of previous generations. European diseases wiped out people before the white men could even come into contact with them. Whites would settle the coast, and the sickness would spread across the continent well ahead of them, due to intertribal trade. When white men encountered these areas a generation or two later, they encountered only a tiny fraction of the numbers of people who had lived there before.

              It’s appalling, and fascinating. The population loss, apparently, actually was great enough to affect world climate….

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              In other words…

              The dream of the most extreme environmentalists — the ones who regard human beings as a parasite on the Earth, and population growth as a pestilence — was to a great extent achieved in the Americas in the 16th century.

              It was a catastrophe nearly as complete as what the enviro wackos in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six tried to bring about by infecting the world with Ebola…

            3. Norm Ivey

              I’m intrigued. Just purchased 1491 and 1493 on the Kindle.

              The explanation I usually hear proffered as a cause of the LIA is volcanic activity. And I think scientists give it less weight now because it was a northern hemisphere event rather than a global one, and even within the hemisphere, the coldest periods varied from region to region.

            4. Norm Ivey

              Nobody reasonable suggests that the earth is going to cook us like a microwave. In fact, some areas of the globe will see little to no change in temperature–equatorial areas, for example. Paradoxically, some areas may actually become cooler. Reasonable scientists predict changes in weather patterns, sea level rise, droughts, floods, migrations of diseases and organisms.

              The greatest changes in temperature are occurring at the poles and in the oceans, and those changes have impacts. The earth’s meteorological systems are nothing more than heat exchange–the earth trying to balance the temperature worldwide. That’s what drives weather. That’s what causes glaciers and ice shelves to melt. Hurricanes are nothing more than heat engines fueled by heat from the oceans. That’s just physics. That’s science.

              Science isn’t something we have a choice about believing in. It is, and it will behave according to its own laws whether we acknowledge them or understand them.

            5. Bryan Caskey

              Climate change is of course a real thing as change being the normal state of affairs in climate. The planet has heated and cooled in cycles since before man even existed. Change is a constant. Whether man may have contributed somewhat to climate change in recent years is highly questionable and probably unknowable.

              It’s not a basis for making policy.

            6. Norm Ivey

              Climate change is a normal thing when measured in millenia. The current data indicates climate change is occurring in decades. Temperatures rose 5 degrees over 5000 years when the last ice age ended. The current trend has the same temperature increase occurring in as little as 100 years.

              Whether the current changes are anthropomorphic is is not highly questionable or unknowable. The current changes are being driven by concentrations of CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere, and CO2 levels have increased because of humans. It is certainly a basis for policy. The debate is what that policy should be.

            7. Bryan Caskey

              Science isn’t something we have a choice about believing in. It is, and it will behave according to its own laws whether we acknowledge them or understand them.

              It seems you’re equating my failure to accept a model’s prediction and a theory about causation as my failure to accept “science”.

              Nothing is easier to do than to come up with a computer model that “proves” what you want it to prove. Back in the 70’s there were models that predicted global cooling. How do those look now?

              You’re trying to use the idea of “science” as way of ending the debate. Science is not a set of conclusions. It’s a method of analysis. Throughout history, scientific conclusions have changed more than the climate.

              To me, what proves that global warming isn’t science is that any set of facts is evidence of the theory being correct.

              Were there more storms than normal over a certain period of time? Bingo, that proves man-made climate change. Were there less storms than normal over a certain period of time? Bingo, that proves man-made climate change.

              Was it warmer somewhere? Bingo, that proves man-made climate change. Was it “paradoxically colder” somewhere, as you said? Bingo, that proves man-made climate change.

              Less ice at the North Pole? Bingo, man-made climate change right there. More ice at the South Pole? Duh, that’s what man-made climate change will get you.

              Oh, and by the by, my personal favorite is that since the climate hasn’t warmed up in 18 years, we’re now saying “Volcanoes!”.

              Sure thing, y’all. Keep working on those models. The rest of us are going to be working on other things.

            8. Norm Ivey

              Your failure to accept a model’s predictions doesn’t make the model incorrect. You’ll forgive me if I have more faith in the scientists who have made the study of climate their life’s work than in your opinion.

              Yes, there were scientists who made dire predictions about the coming ice age. Those predictions were based on observations of particulate matter in the atmosphere reflecting the sun’s heat before it reached the surface of the earth. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs when volcanic activity picks up. It’s what killed the dinosaurs when airborne debris blocked out the sun’s heat for months. It is sound science, but it never approached the scientific consensus surrounding global warming. And we did make policy based on that science. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was a response to the amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere. An illustration of the science behind global warming and global cooling is close at hand. My closed car heats up during the summer because the heat is trapped within, but it heats up less if I park under a shady tree because less heat reaches it in the first place.

              Science is analysis of evidence that leads to conclusions. I’ll concede that those conclusions can sometimes be wrong, but when analysis leads to the kind of certainty in the scientific community that exists now among climate scientists, those conclusions generally turn out to be right. Science does eventually end some debates. The earth is not flat, nor is it the center of the universe. Light bends. Electricity is the flow of electrons. Antibiotics and vaccines combat disease. Burning carbon-based fuels adds CO2 to the atmosphere. These are facts that can’t be debated.

              The list of evidence you provide and dismiss is, to me, evidence of how serious the issue is. If any one of those were the sole indicator of global change, I would dismiss it as well, but you have to look at all evidence together. You left out dozens of other indicators (the migration of insects and plant species, for example).

            9. Doug Ross

              What does science say the specific steps required to reverse the current state of climate change? Is it even possible?

            10. Norm Ivey

              There are both mechanical and chemical means for removing and sequestering CO2, and there are plenty of minds working on the problem. Personally, I’m very pessimistic about REVERSING the effects of what we have done so far. Too late, too little will, too much money to be made, too much obstruction. Many articles I’ve read recently have scientists expressing concern over the rate of change–many predictions are coming to fruition sooner than models predicted. I think they may share my pessimism.

              I’m optimistic about what we can do to temper the effects. Adopting cleaner technologies for electrical generation, adopting more efficient cars, implementing efficiencies in our own homes and businesses, regulating emissions, devising tax policy that encourages cleaner technologies and discourages CO2-heavy technologies–all these would help. I think in time the inertia that keeps us from acting will be overcome.

            11. Mark Stewart

              I’m not at all sure what I believe about the climate debate issue. There are a number of compelling arguments, on both sides.

              To me, the thing that is most relevant factor is the scale of change – in the past, at present, or projected. On that basis, it still appears that mother nature has swung the earth’s atmosphere over the millennia far more than our human pollution is likely to alter our planet’s environment. I am not at all arguing that we shouldn’t always try to respect our planet, but the idea of trying to hold an ever-changing world to one point in time seems in some ways to be Quixotic at best – and maybe even a sign of human hubris. How do we determine the “perfect state” for the entire world? If our timescale is in millions of years, earth time, instead of decades, our own human outlook, then do we appreciate atmospheric flux differently?

              Adaptation to change, to me, is the one constant of our world.

            12. Norm Ivey

              Modern humans have never experienced a significant climate change. For hundreds of thousands of years before we invented civilization, the CO2 concentration was below 325 ppm. We have increased it to over 400 and are on track to reach 450 within a decade or two. It’s no less Quixotic to try to maintain the planet’s equilibrium than it is to purposefully disrupt it. Believing we can continue to emit enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere without consequence is the more dangerous hubris.

              Every previous climate change has been accompanied by an extinction event. Those changes occurred over thousands of years. We are inducing the same sort of change in just a few decades. Frankly, the planet will be fine. Species will, as you point out, adapt (or die). I just think we should choose our own adaptation path while we still have the greatest number of options.

          1. Harry Harris

            Or to enhance their incentive for stirring up trouble and threats in certain parts of the world to spike oil prices. Russia, for instance. Iran for another.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oops… I just posted two comments arguing with Bryan, because I thought he’d said lower oil prices were good for Putin. Sorry.

              But I’ll say this instead…

              The assumption I’m operating from is that greatly reducing demand for oil in this country further depresses global prices. So, if you slap on a big tax when prices are low, thereby suppressing consumption, the global prices STAY low, because there’s too much of the stuff out there.

              The fact is, I can make a bleeding-heart argument why this is bad, much the same as the one about higher taxes being a burden on the working poor in this country. If prices stay low globally, ordinary people in Venezuela and Russia suffer.

              BUT the state of affairs with high prices, while it funds services in those countries, also props up the autocratic rulers. Which, in the long run, is bad. And this rulers have no incentive to try to move away from an extraction economy…

            2. Harry Harris

              Not unhappy about the effect on Russia and Iran of the sanctions coupled with oil price dips. Only pointing out that it could make them more dangerous and bellicose – or it could make them more interested in behavior that would remove the sanctions. That’s what you, and I, and all but the most militaristic among us want.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Again, just spend the money on the roads that is necessary to fix them. Make that the first thing in the budget. Then go down the list in order of priority. You know, make some decisions about the relative importance of things. When the budget runs out of money, we can have a conversation about raising taxes to pay for whatever’s left…or not.

  5. Karen Pearson

    If we keep having cheap gas for awhile, the “old” cars will be the Priuses and such. Already those who can are buying SUVs to provide transportation for 1.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Shouldn’t we give people incentives to buy SUVs and other gas guzzling cars, since they’ll be using more gas and therefore paying more in the gas tax? I mean, if everyone drove a Chevy Suburban, we’d have a lot more gas tax revenue. 🙂

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        But only if we raise the tax.

        In any case, I know you’re kidding. We’ve seen that when prices rise, SUV sales go down, and vice versa.

        It’s amazing, how short people’s horizons are. Most people end up paying for cars for four or five years, don’t they? (I’m estimating here, because I haven’t bought a NEW car since 1986 — I won’t pay that much money for anything less than a house.) It’s a long-term commitment. But oil prices drop momentarily, and people act as though it’s a permanent condition. They’re like goldfish…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      My old Prius is 2007, and cooking along just fine. The first Priuses are more than ten years old now.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I still can’t afford one. I would if I could.

        Actually, I’d like a hybrid Camry. More room is better for transporting grandchildren.

        Not that I’m the sort who thinks he needs an SUV or a van when the first child arrives. I’m a guy who made do with subcompacts when we had three kids. Up until our fourth child was born, I had a VW Rabbit and my wife had a Mazda GLC (which really WAS a great little car). Manual shift on both of them. Our three kids were small, and all could fit — barely — into the back seat of either. We actually drove from Memphis to Wichita like that.

        But when the fourth came, we couldn’t go anywhere as a family any more. So we bought a seriously underpowered (4 cyl) Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera Cruiser station wagon. That was the last new car we bought, and I am STILL outraged that we had to pay more than $13,000 for it in 1986.

        Foolishly, we traded in the Mazda as part of the deal. If we had traded in the VW instead, I think that GLC would still be running…

      2. Norm Ivey

        Electrics are coming, and I’m thinking they will be the predominant form of personal transportation within 2 decades.

        GM has a full EV concept car (The Bolt) with a projected price of $30,000. Their Volt is selling steadily, if slowly. Nissan’s Leaf is doing the same. Most encouraging, both Tesla and Toyota have announced they will allow their patents to be used for free (for a while), which I suspect is more about becoming the standard (like Beta vs. VHS or MS-DOS vs. Apple).

  6. bud

    Easiest issue ever. Not sure why all the angst. Just raise the gas tax to fund much needed road improvements. This is amazingly obvious.

    1. Doug Ross

      Except there is no evidence that the government will do a good job of using whatever money is raised to repair roads. We’ll get the same level of service as we get now – jobs that should take days take weeks… fixing a pothole requires four guys standing around watching another guy… unions will grab millions for doing no work.

      Let’s see some excellence with the millions of dollars they already get before throwing more into the government sinkhole.

      1. Harry Harris

        Actually, the jobs are done by a combination of contracted work (private sector) and highway dept or county public works crews. We have no public sector unions of ant import here in SC. Both government and private-sector entities can mess stuff up or do them well – but both need good oversight.

        1. Doug Ross

          The government provides the oversight. If the private contractors are not doing their job well, that’s the fault of the overseers (i.e. the ones who spend other people’s money, the ones who take kickbacks from contractors, and the ones who establish procurement rules that result in lower quality results).

        2. Doug Ross

          My comment about unions was related to a federal gas tax which would surely involve union workers in some states.

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