19 February 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name. (also a Modest Proposal on Reducing Gas Consumption)

Old Will was probably right (and yes, I misquote him in the post title, call it weakly ironic given the nature of this post).

But what about when people shove a carnation under your nose and tell you it's still a rose? (It may still smell, it might even be pleasant, but certainly, that's no rose)

This article, from today's Current section of the LATimes is just such a carnation masquerading as a rose. Notice at the tippy top of the page, the author/or LATimes editor have the audacity to call this piece a 'modest proposal'.

First off, since Mr. Swift's brilliantly satirical and outrageous piece about how best to deal with the Irish, when most people use the phrase 'modest proposal' it's a semi-technical term relating to an outrageous suggestion given in reasonable terms, usually to make a broader political point.

This particular simple plea for more sensible (in the author's view) tax incentives for conserving gas doesn't rise to the definition (in my opinion, anyway) of a 'modest proposal'.

Personally, I'm of the flat-tax, or purely consumption tax school for raising money on a federal level. All this social engineering through the tax code has caused numerous distortions in people's behaviors that have hurt society in general more than they have helped. So a little tinkering like she suggests misses the boat that ALL these sort of incentives are bad, bad, and bad.

Now back to her little 'modest proposal' on reforming the incentives for buying high fuel efficiency vehicles, here's what a true 'modest proposal' might have looked like:

Priuses (or is that Prii?) proliferate amongst the wealthy (more as a third or fourth car status symbol rather than a true family commuter box, places that rent Priuses can't keep them on the lot during awards season), but what about those with less means? If our goal is to 'break the addiction' on foreign oil then we must find new and innovative ways to encourage ALL consumers to change their habits.

My modest proposal to drive all of America towards better habits at the fuel pumps (and at the car lots when they choose which cars to buy) would be to place scales at every pump, at every gas station, everywhere in the United States. I know my critics will say that this would be prohibitively expensive, but pish tosh to all that, we can't afford NOT TO institute some kind of reform in this area, and scales aren't so hard to install (plus the mini-construction boom would be good for the economy).

Once these scales are installed, charge each customer at a rate of $.001 per gallon per pound. For example a 250lb motorcycle would cost $.25 per gallon to fill up while a 5500lb truck would cost $5.50 per gallon to fuel. People would very quickly adjust their habits and choose vehicles that are less expensive to drive.

Obviously there are a few kinks to work out (all gas tanks would have to be designed to prevent siphoning or else small car drivers would start a side business reselling gas to large car drivers) but these are small technical issues to iron out.

If we want to kick our habit of foreign oil, and improve the environment, reduce congestion on the roads (if everyone rides a small scooter, all those traffic lanes will suddenly seem much larger) then this very simple and plain modest proposal will do the trick.

There, was that so hard to make a true Modest Proposal, hell no. But that's too much to expect from the LATimes, evidently. I wouldn't have written about that article had it not been presented under the guise of a 'modest proposal'. In the future LATimes, please use appropriate language when heading your pieces. Is that so much to ask?


Icepick said...

More importantly, it wouldn't affect behavior that much. People would just fuel up with light vehicles and then pump the gas into their heavier vehicles. Duh.

XWL said...

That's why I put in the line about redesigning gas tanks to make them siphon proof.

But the real point was the LATimes shouldn't call any old suggestion a 'modest proposal'.

Icepick said...

Sorry, missed that line.

Still, people would just fix the tanks when they bought them, or would buy tanks from old cars and install them in newer models. Just like undoing the catalytic converters, no big deal.

Thinking about all of this, it almost makes me want to campaign for such a price structure. The black market opportunities would be HUGE if the incentive pricing could be rigged to be sufficiently stupid. All I'd need is to find a particularly stupid Senator to write the legislation.....

Excuse me, I have to go look up my Senator's phone number....

Pooh said...

All I'd need is to find a particularly stupid Senator to write the legislation.....

Insert low hanging fruit joke here.

Seriously, I'm mostly in agreement that simplifying the tax system by at least 12 orders of magnitude would be a Good Thing, though I'd still like some progressivity as I think the richest among us should pay more by proportion as the marginal value of $ drops as you get more of it. But that's just my pinko-liberal tendancies showing ;)