Demagoguing on Gas Prices

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Over at Tapped, Matt Yglesias argues that the Democrats are doing the smart thing politically by proposing some ludicrous bill to lower gas prices this summer that Republicans will be forced to vote against. Maybe he’s right. At the same time, there’s a rather big dilemma here.

Oil prices are in all likelihood going to continue rising from now until whenever the oil runs out. And what’s more, higher oil prices are, all things considered, a good thing—they’ll spur people to use less gas and give everyone incentives to find alternatives to our oil-based economy that’s literally burning up the earth. From that perspective, oil prices should actually be higher than they are now. Much higher. Ideally, Congress would levy gas taxes on everyone to hasten this process along, especially since we don’t have a whole heap of time left before the carbon concentration levels in the atmosphere become irreversible.

But no one’s proposing any such thing—because it’s political suicide. And it’s political suicide because the main narrative in Congress is that gas prices are somehow “too high,” that they “should” be lower, and that it’s somehow within Congress’ power to make them lower (it’s not). And that’s the main narrative because it’s always the “smart thing” politically to demagogue on this issue. Is this cycle somehow going to end if and when Democrats ever retake Congress? Probably not. Back in 1993 Democrats passed a 4-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and… promptly lost power. Meanwhile…

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