A Net-Positive Gas Tax

Richard Lugar, in the February 1 issue of the Washington Post , supported Charles Krauthammerís so-called net-zero gas tax idea .  This net-zero idea is an eminently fair and painless way to combat our looming oil crisis.  What makes the idea so great is that the taxes collected are given back to tax payers in the form of an income tax rebate.  And to sweeten the deal, the rebate can even be given before the tax is collected.

By artificially raising the price of gasoline, the net-zero gas tax uses highly effective market forces to channel usage and investment away from oil and toward alternative sources of energy.  This market-based approach demonstrated its effectiveness in response to the surge in oil prices last year:  gasoline consumption subsided and gasoline prices plummeted.  During the surge, it was the Saudiís pocketing the dough.  Net-zero puts the dough back into U.S. taxpayersí pockets.

The most compelling reason for a net-zero gas tax was neglected by Lugar and Krauthammer, though.  The fact is that, on a household-by-household basis, net-zero is actually ìnet-positiveî, and progressive.  This is because there is a strong positive correlation between household income and household gasoline consumption .  Thus the net-zero tax gives a net positive financial benefit to a significant majority of households, because households with the greatest income tend to be extravagant while households with the least income tend to be frugal.  The result is a financial windfall for a substantial majority of taxpayers, especially those with the greatest need.  This will then also serve as an added economic stimulus, with immediate and continuing benefit to the economy.

There is urgency in implementing this net-positive gas tax idea, however, because of accelerating declines in global oil production .  Oil prices (and political tensions) will escalate in response to the inexorable increases in the global demand for oil, most notably in China and the developing world.  Thus if a net-positive gas tax is to be imposed it must be done now, before natural free-market forces drive the price beyond our ability to bear an additional tax.  This in fact already happened, last year.  Fortunately, the current recession has given us a reprieve, one final window of opportunity it seems.  But we must act immediately to hold down the price of oil, or else prepare to open our wallets to OPEC.

Dr. George Doddington