Essay:Raising the gas tax is a way of fighting terrorism

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When the terrorists first struck America on 9/11, we were all taught that sacrifices would have to be made to defeat this enemy of humanity. However, shortly thereafter "President" George W. Bush turned around and told Americans to "go shopping" - this is the opposite of actually sacrificing anything. This essay argues that for fighting Islamist terrorism, we will have to sacrifice after all: In paying more at the pump. However, as I hope you'll agree after having read it in its entirety, not only is the "sacrifice" bearable, it is also more than compensated for by the various benefits it will bring. So in short if you love America and hate the terrorists, raise the gas tax![1]

The gas tax is too low[edit]

Everybody who follows the news with even half an ear knows the following: The gas tax has not been raised since Bill Clinton was President, and the US are one of the countries with the cheapest gas taxes in the world[2]. Only beaten by the likes of Venezuela[3] or Mexico[4] and a handful of third world and Arab countries. Furthermore, the Interstate Highway trust fund, that is supposed to be financed through the gas tax is bankrupt and has been for several years. The only way it currently stays afloat is by several concurrent resolutions and by diverting funds from other sources to highways which is probably both illegal and morally wrong.

Everybody pays, less and less people drive[edit]

Not only is the gas tax too low to cover the running costs of maintaining existing highways, it is also too low (and has never been high enough) to pay back any part of the construction costs. So since Eisenhower had the "great" idea of busting the railroads[5] through the Interstate Highway system, all Americans - whether they drive or not - have been subsidizing road travel. This is without even addressing the amount of money gas would cost if the effects of the CO2 that is released by burning it were included or the horrendous costs in live and blood through car accidents[6] were taken into account.

Now you will say: Sure everybody pays, but in the end it is just, as everybody drives as well. But as can be seen here[7] here[8] here[9] and here [10], Americans are driving less and less, especially if seen on a per capita basis. This trend is especially true for millennials and if polls are to believed, the car is losing its aura as a "must have" and a "rite of passage" for young people[11] and less and less people own their own car. This is a dramatic shift from the times of the baby boomers, when the question whether one would get a car together with the driver's license at 18 was rarely if ever answered in anything but the affirmative. So in short young urban people are subsidizing old white relatively well off older people living in rural and suburban areas. This is classic red state welfare-queenism.

Connection between Petroleum and terrorism[edit]

this outdated graphic from 2008 shows who had which oil reserves before Venezuela started "discovering" huge amounts of oil[12]
Now, you will say, this is all nice and well, but what on earth does gas have to with terrorism? Well, apart from the last untouched nature reserves on earth, petroleum mostly lies beneath places that are mostly inhabited by religious fundamentalists and governed by unpleasant rulers. Places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, [13] Alaska or Alberta[14].

However, more important than how big an impact on global oil prices a country has, is the question of how important oil is for said country. While Canada, the US or even Brazil could probably survive economically if all their oil disappeared tomorrow, places like Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela are almost entirely dependent on oil. And as we all know, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the top sponsors of Islamic terrorism, bankrolling all major Sunni and Shia extremist groups, respectively. That neither the Saudis nor Iran officially acknowledge the right of Israel to do what every state in the world does - namely exist - is just icing on the cake. And when it comes to the domestic policies of Iran or Saudi Arabia, I guess I would be gilding the lily in going into details. Daesh has had it as one of its primary goals to conquer oil wells and keep them producing in order to smuggle out oil to get more money for weapons. As a matter of fact the four main sources of income for groups like Daesh are:

  1. Smuggle in antiques
  2. "Donations" - either from foreign countries like Saudi Arabia or from gullible Muslims around the world[15]
  3. Smuggle in oil
  4. General racketeering, looting and extortion

Whether any of the Daesh-oil actually ends up in the tank of an American SUV is immaterial, as oil is oil and the oil ISIL sells in one place replaces oil that instead gets exported to the US. So US demand for oil drives the wells for ISIL and fills their pockets.

Why arms embargoes won't help[edit]

Sure you will say, much of the money for terrorism comes from oil, but you cannot shoot people with oil. Neither can you shoot people with money. Well, this is trivially true, so arms embargoes would be a good solution in theory. However - as can be seen in the current nuclear embargo against Iran or the arms embargo against China - arms embargoes have a habit of being broken. At least four of the six biggest arms exporters - USA, Russia, Germany, China, France, Great Britain - have historically had or do currently enjoy good relationships to a number of Arab nations[16] and have not had any qualms of making large arms deals with the Saudis, Egypt or even Syria. And that is not even taking into account the "unofficial" channels so brilliantly explored in the movie "Lord of WarWikipedia's W.svg". If somebody has significant amounts of money - and sitting on oil currently provides this kind of money - getting arms is easy. Illegal arms may be harder to get and/or more expensive, but they are not impossible to get. Besides, the most popular weapons among terrorists are small arms like the AK47 or bombs derived from Ammonium-nitrate and gasoline - things that can be easily produced by any half competent group with the necessary will and resources. A terror group that is or intends to be a quasi-state like Saudi Arabia, Iran or ISIL would of course need more than just AK47 and homemade explosives, but there again we can go back to our trusty shady weapons salesmen.

Other benefits from raising the gas tax[edit]

So yeah, you will concede, raising the gas tax might after all help dry up terrorist funding somewhat and it might be fair to the people who drive less, but it would end up hurting the economy! And after all, we all depend on getting around wherever and whenever we want!

Well there are several flaws with this argument. Just because the gas tax is higher, this does not mean that driving becomes unaffordable. In Norway gas hovers at around ten bucks a gallon[17], yet Norwegians still drive around plenty in their car - in fact the fjords and islands still attract plenty of RVers from all over Europe. Yes one obvious consequence of higher gas taxes (and hence higher gas prices) would be that people drive less. But - and here comes the good news - the less people drive the less people need to drive. Imagine living in a "drive till you qualify" exurb that currently costs $200 in additional gas to drive to per month but saves you $300 in housing costs per month. If gas prices rose to make the difference $400, you could move into the house that costs $300 more per month and still end up saving a hundred bucks. Not to mention the time and live quality you won't waste sitting in traffic. And the closer you live to the city, the more likely it is that public transport is going to be an option. And at its current growth rates[18], public transit is bound to be an option for you if you move closer to the city.

Low gas prices depress demand for public transit[edit]

And the higher gas prices are, the more options open up for private operators of intercity public transit. Japan - a country with gas prices similar to most of Europe, but higher ancillary costs to car ownership[19] - has a number of privately run money making intercity railroad companies and its subways operate - for the most part - at a profit and without public subsidy. The current depressed prices of gas and other costs of car ownership may let this seem unlikely for the US, but even now, one private company is trying to get a loan to build a railroad from SoCal to Las Vegas even in the current hostile climate towards trains while While another one is trying to do the same for Texas. Imagine getting on a train in Dallas and leaving it in Albuquerque five hours later, and taking public transit to your destination - no hassle, no congestion, no TSA grabbing your nuts, no looking for scarce and expensive parking, no inedible airline food and crammed seats. And if you don't care for Albuquerque, just take the next train to Phoenix that gets you there in three hours or less. All this are things the Japanese have had for fifty years now. All they had to do for it was pay a little bit higher gas prices.

And all that is not even beginning to address the various benefits it would have in terms of urban planning - less space wasted on seas of parking, less Walmart strip malls, less sprawl, more walkability. Nor does this even begin to address the various environmental benefits or the simple fact that oil is a finite resource and once we burn it, it is gone.

Alternative: Privatizing Highways[20][edit]

Of course one way to achieve (part of) the desired results is getting rid of the ridiculous pretense that gas taxes pay for highways - though gas taxes will continue to be levied, as almost no government ever gets rid of any tax, lest it be needed at some future point in time. Besides, they are a joke anyway. The main problem will probably be that there are few willing buyers for the highways given their dilapidated state. But if highways were run as a private for profit venture, they would have to pay all construction and maintenance through tolls and hence trains would once again become vastly more attractive as the maintenance of one track mile of train track is vastly lower than one lane mile of highway, even though one track mile of train track can transport way more people or goods in any given time. Even right now where railways have to pay all their maintenance through revenue and trucking companies don't have to pay for maintenance of the roads they destroy[21], trains are the vastly cheaper option of hauling huge quantities of goods from coast to coast and the railroads are making good money doing so.

A private highway or privately operated highway[22] would of course have the advantage, that congestion pricing would be easier to implement - simply raise the toll during certain hours/days et voilà you got yourself congestion pricing. Congestion pricing is undeniably a good thing, as the main cost of cars from the standpoint of the owners of a road is congestion. But this an issue for another time.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. This sentence is intentionally cheesy to parody the right wing talking points about some policy choice or other being "patriotic"
  2. see this handy list for reference
  3. Which has vast, though most likely vastly overstated petroleum reserves
  4. which also has vast petroleum reserves
  5. which up to that point made money carrying passengers and freight and covered all major metropolitan areas of the lower 48 and Alaska
  6. often killing the elderly and children or people who dare to use their own feet or a bike
  7. Chart of the Day: We're Driving Less and Less and Less | Mother Jones
  8. Will 2013 Continue The 7-Year Downward Trend In American Driving? | ThinkProgress
  9. Why Is US Oil Consumption Lower? Better Gasoline Mileage? | Gail Tverberg | FINANCIAL SENSE
  10. http://www.planetizen.com/node/80361/yes-urban-millennials-do-drive-less
  11. The many reasons millennials are shunning cars - The Washington Post - Wonkblog
  12. as these numbers are hard to verify for outside sources "proven" oil reserves are always to be taken cum grano salisWikipedia's W.svg
  13. which - while not governed by a religious nutcase is still governed by a nutcase and ally of Iran and Belarus
  14. Yes I know it is currently governed by the NDP, but who knows for how long?
  15. hopefully both of these dry up quickly
  16. In the case of Germany this may well be do to unsavory parts of its history, but I won't even go there on this page
  17. see this site for reference
  18. Public transit hits 10.8 billion trips in 2014 | USA Today
  19. like tolls and fees for mandatory checkups
  20. Yes I am aware this idea was brought up by the Cato institute among other Libertarian Crackpots
  21. Road wear rises roughly with the third or fourth power of axle load - double the axle load and you will get eight to sixteen times the damage, hence heavier vehicles are the bigger problem for roads; similar though slightly different calculations apply for tracks
  22. that is a highway that while owned by the state or a state-like entity wholly or in part is operated like a private for profit venture