Saturday, March 04, 2006

In a March 1st New York Times article, Thomas Friedman wrote about the energy crisis, saying "The only real solution is raising our gasoline tax, which is a paltry 18.4 cents a gallon and has not been increased since 1993. Only by bringing the total price of gasoline into the $3.50-to-$4-per-gallon range- and keeping it there- will large numbers of Americans demand plug-in hybrid cars that run on biofuels like ethanol."

Here is the reply I sent:

Dear Mr. Friedman,

Having just read another of your articles championing the gas tax as the best method of reforming our energy policy, I feel compelled to write to you. Louis Armstrong, asked to define Jazz, said, “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand the answer.”, and I fear that the mere fact that you can seriously propose taxing gasoline to bring the price up to $4.00/gallon means that you are incapable of understanding the consequences- but I feel I must try.

The majority of your fellow Americans are wholly dependent on their automobiles. I realize a New Yorker may have trouble grasping this, but fully one half of America lives in communities where there is no public transportation whatsoever, and another large percentage lives in cities where public transportation is quite inadequate. Here in Indianapolis, for example, we have a large and expensive bus system- but this is a city of some 400 square miles; including the suburbs where many of us live and work, we’re talking a couple thousand square miles- no bus system could ever service that. The reality is that to live and work, you must drive.

A further reality is that half of your fellow Americans can be described as working poor. We’re raising our families and usually making ends meet- but only just. We’re not out here joyriding in SUVs just to smell the burning gas, we’re driving the most economical vehicles we can afford to buy- which doesn't currently include hybrids. Those of us driving pickup trucks generally need them for work; we cannot afford to have separate work and home vehicles. We are already economizing as much as possible by keeping those vehicles in good repair, and combining as many trips as possible- going to the store only on the way home from work, etc..

Your proposed gas tax would mean, depending upon exactly where one works and lives, a $25-$100 per week extra expense- and tens of millions of Americans don’t have that kind of money. Please try to understand what I’m saying: it would not be a hardship, it would be an impossibility; the money does not exist. Tens of millions of Americans- most of them young families- would be bankrupt the day that tax goes into effect. Tens of millions more could afford it, but only by cutting back their quality of life into genuine hardship. It’s all well and good to talk of this forcing car companies to produce cheaper hybrids- but you’re talking years; these people will be homeless as fast as the sheriff can evict them for non-payment of rent!
I know it’s easy to forget about us here in “flyover” country between the big cities where the policy makers you report on work and live; after all, “out of sight, out of mind”. But we do exist, we have lives and families- please don’t write us off as the eggs that must be broken to make your energy omelet.


Anonymous said...

There is a pretty huge middle ground between the ever growing sized SUV many Americans choose to buy and a hybrid vehicle.
When gas prices spike, people buy smaller cars. Then gas prices return to "normal" and we buy big cars again. I think Friedman suggests that we raise the tax on gas to reflect the true cost of our oil (remember Friedman is mostly focused on our very expensive foriegn policy that subsidizes our inexpensive gas). New Yorkers are paying for SUV drivers to have the luxury of a gas-inefficient car while they take the subway.

Joel Monka said...

None of which affects the point I was making: if gasoline is taxed at the rate he proposes in his series of articles- this is only the most recent- then tens of millions of us here in flyover country will be bankrupt overnight, and the economy will tank the month after. Long term consequences may be exactly as he describes- which means nothing to someone who cannot feed their children tonight.

He ridicules politicians who don't have the "courage" to propose his big tax solution, but they know something he doesn't: people have to eat TODAY. A long term solution that requires you to die in the short term is not a solution.

LaReinaCobre said...

I just want to know what is the solution?

Unfortunately, it seems as though without consequences that affect us personally, most of us don't care about quite a few extremely important issues. And if they don't care, will the politicians?