We should raise gas taxes

Wow! We are almost a month into the New Year and I haven’t written anything. There is so much to talk about. Charlie Hebdo, the President’s State of the Union, Deflategate, Boko Haram, Lupe Fiasco’s album, the ongoing protests against police brutality, just so many things to cover.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I pick probably the most boring thing to talk about at this time. I know it was a long time ago, but remember when oil was 100 a barrel and gas was over $5.00 a gallon in some places? I do, it was rough. Comedians were making jokes about people making life or death budgetary decisions at the gas pump. People were swearing off SUV’s and trying to figure out if they could adjust to life in a Prius. A major part of the John McCain’s campaign platform was the demand that the government should drill for more oil. Remember “Drill baby drill?”

Well America found a better way to drill, a major part of gas prices going down is due to the fact that technological breakthroughs made shale oil much more efficient and put much more oil on the international market. In addition, Saudi Arabia helped us out by stalling OPEC maneuvers to reduce the amount of oil available and keep prices artificially high. China still has not figured out how to keep its economy growing and countries like Iraq have managed to keep producing oil through uncertain times. As a result, gas prices have been in free fall and we are enjoying a time of great savings.

But in good times we often fail to think of the long term implications of our actions. It was easy to critique our dependence on foreign oil when times were bad, but our addiction to oil still has not changed, we’ve just benefited from the fact that we figured out how to produce more oil for the time being and America is still the strongest economy in the world. So I understand why it might be hard to remember the very good reasons for lessening our use of oil even more.

First, the less oil we consume the lower prices will stay. I think we have to consider the fact that the latest spike in oil prices has given oil corporations an opportunity to take measure of society. While the average gas prices are around 2.05 a gallon, oil corporations now know the market can bear at least double that and if they hold true to form, they will try to get some of that profit back one way or another. I’m not saying we should be against corporations, but I am saying that if they are going to be in the energy business why don’t we mold the market in such a way that the Exxons of the world have more incentive to develop alternative fuels than they do to keep us consuming more and more oil?

If we raise taxes on oil while prices are low it will introduce an artificial price limit and keep the reduction of oil dependency and consumption of fossil fuels on the American political agenda. This is good for America’s domestically, internationally, and environmentally.

Domestically, we can use the additional profits we gain from the taxes to engage in projects which as yet have gone unaddressed due to budgetary constraints. We can finally address America’s outdated and crumbling infrastructure. We could even put the money right back into the pockets of hardworking citizens. Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has a very interesting proposal for this. This is ironic, because a conservative is actually proposing to raise taxes, and actually has a good idea about something to government can do that might work.

Internationally, the downward trend of oil prices is already making America more powerful in foreign relations. The weaker oil consumption is the less American presidents have to deal with it when considering the positions we take on global human rights issues. We can take stronger stands for human rights in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe without having to worry about how those stances might affect the oil market. If we consume less oil we can further weaken nations such as Russia and Iran so that they can create less havoc for global security in Europe and the Middle East.

Environmentally, if we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, perhaps we can reduce carbon emissions and stave off the alarming effects of climate change.

Increasing the gas tax will remind us that these long term objectives are important and should remain at the top of American political priorities. Whether you are a Republican and your priority is national security or you are a Democrat and your priority is reducing human rights violations and combatting climate change, moderation of America’s oil consumption and dependence on foreign oil should be a matter of grave importance. Raising taxes on gas can achieve all these objectives and more, and for that reason it should be something that receives bipartisan support especially in a time of cheap oil.