Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Friedman's Fantasy

In one of his periodic ventures into writing fantasy fiction, Tom Friedman ($) imagines that Bush might support a big increase in the gas tax to encourage conservation. Besides all the substantive critiques -- it's regressive, most Americans have no choice but to drive, it would hit the rural poor hardest -- and the political objections -- no matter what they tell pollsters, Americans love their cars and hate taxes; the GOP beat the bejesus out of Bill Cinton for a 4-cent increase -- one obvious problem is that a gas tax would hit Republicans hardest.

According to the 2000 Census, about 76 percent of Americans drive alone to work every day; another 12 percent car-pool. (Car-poolers mostly live in auto-dependent areas of the South and West; 3 percent of Americans who walk to work).

Only 5 percent use mass transit, which is overwhelmingly a "Blue State" phenomenon. One-half of mass-transit riders live in the Northeast; 38 percent live in the New York metropolitan area --not exactly Bush country. 69% of mass-transit riders live in six states: New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. None of these states voted for Bush; only Pennsylvania is represented by Republicans in the Senate. Of the top ten states in mass transit ridership as a proportion of the population, none voted for Bush.* Only 1 in 50 Texans commute by bus, subway or train. Alabama and North Dakota have the lowest rates of public-transit use (0.4%), Michigan the highest rate of driving alone (83.2%).

Not only is mass transit more popular in "Blue States," but the folks on the bus look more like Kerry voters: 12% of African-Americans use public transportation, only 3% of non-Hispanic whites do. The only three counties in the nation where a majority of people use mass transit are in New York City: Manhattan (17% for Bush), Brooklyn (24% for Bush) and the Bronx (17% for Bush).

I don't foresee a Republican president and a Republican Congress voting to increase gas taxes anytime soon.

*New York: 24.4%
New Jersey: 9.6%
Massachusetts: 8.7%
Illinois: 8.7%
Maryland: 7.2%
Hawaii: 6.3%
Pennsylvania: 5.2%
California: 5.1%
Washington: 4.9%
Oregon: 4.2%


Anonymous said...

Why is the proposal always for a "gas tax." Why could the proposal not be for a 5 or 10 dollar a barrel tax on foreign oil (NAFTA, Norway and Britain) excluded? Oil is used for more than gas. The key problem for the U.S. is the dependence on oil from volatile regions and the ability of the middle east to pump oil more cheaply than competitive fuels. The tax on foreign oil would stimulate domestic production of energy and could be coupled with an elimination of tax benefits and subsidies the oil industry now benefits from. It is more efficient than this hodge podge and anyone coming up with an energy source 5 to 10 dollars more expensive than the natural price of oil would be assured a market. A gas tax is simply a puritanical excercise against the automobile. A foreign oil import tax, takes money from the mullahs, stimulates all kinds of domestic technical innovation, and puts money into the Treasury.

The U.S. however would continue to be the chief defender of the international order and any fantasy that energy independence for us would allow "splendid isolation" and a disengagement from the problems of the Middle East and Africa is a lost cause.


Anonymous said...

Rumsfeld thinks there is no Civil War in Iraq