- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

T. J. Orban issues yet another “solution” to energy problems; namely, higher taxes on gasoline to reduce consumption. (Forum, Oct. 1.) Recent events contradict his claim “there has never been a more compelling time” to raise energy taxes.

Among others, Sen. John Kerry made the same argument when he proposed a 50-cent per gallon gas tax increase. At the time, that would have raised the gasoline price to about $1.70 per gallon. Looking at the current local prices, I can only say: “Problem already solved without that particular tax increase.”

It seems no matter how high the price of gas is, some theorists presume an additional tax increase would reduce consumption. If I have read Mr. Orban’s thesis correctly, the process would impose gasoline taxes to raise the price of gasoline. That would then reduce consumption. And the purpose of reducing consumption would be, he continues, to lower the volume of gasoline purchased so less oil money would go to terrorists.

He says our demand for “a quarter of the world’s oil supply … elevates prices,” but doesn’t address the corollary effect by which lowered prices would increase available supply that results in higher demand. With growing demands for oil by China and India, whose populations far outweigh ours, would an additional artificial price increase in the U.S. have any significant effect? If Mr. Chavez can’t sell his Venezuelan oil in the U.S., will he fail to sell all of it to China, especially since the Chinese are already seeking that purchase?

This proposal fails to include in its reasoning any effects other than the presumed effects of a one-time price increase to American consumers. There are too many other variables, many of which could come into play either as a result or as independently conceived actions. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries largely controls supply. Environmentalists, so far, have been able to hamstring American independence on supply and refinery capability while apparently not caring about similar conditions wherever else oil may be found and refined.

Recently, the U.S. price of gasoline rose somewhat dramatically when supplies fell short as a result of hurricane Katrina and the approaching summer vacation-travel months increased demand. Now, with post-Labor-Day demand lessening and relative supply increasing, the price is falling. In these circumstances, how much of an additional gas tax would Mr. Orban suggest — $1 per gallon, $2, $5, $20? I will agree the latter would certainly change my personal driving habits. But what would be the costs to our economy overall?

“Cheap energy” is not “a luxury we cannot afford” but a desirable status for consumers and users, if not for suppliers. Suppose for a moment energy were totally free and available from something like simple sunlight conversion. Would that not be an affordable luxury for most of us? Once perceived luxuries usually become future necessities: Clean potable water, indoor plumbing, electricity and the Internet are a few examples. Affordable energy is included as well.

Reducing American demand for oil is, Mr. Orban says, desirably primarily to affect the redistribution of wealth to our adversaries. There are other options not mentioned. At the risk of inflaming environmentalists, I would say that drilling for more American oil would (eventually) help.

As a personal observation, I typically see no merit in any proposals that embody the proposition that “if only everybody would [fill in the blank]” then a problem would be solved. On most issues, about a third of the people are for, a third against, and a third don’t know — and it’s impossible to get everybody to do anything. Those are tough conditions under which to formulate any solution.

Count me as one who disagrees that it is a “personal responsibility to advocate for a higher energy tax.” There are no persuasive arguments that such taxes will have any beneficial effect. There are many probable negative effects not mentioned in the Forum article. More taxes merely provide politicians more money to spend, which is bad enough by itself, but worse if it doesn’t achieve the presumed results.

TED DUKE

Reston, Va.

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