Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Go on and fool me

Did the Washington Post just mistake Bush's momentary call for conservation for a genuine attempt to eliminate oil dependency?
Although Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for his cardigan campaign, Mr. Bush's rhetorical U-turn is welcome. It recognizes that any serious energy strategy has to include conservation. But there is a difference between supplication and policy. If Mr. Bush really wants to promote more careful energy consumption, he ought to tax it...

This is a smart way to make oil producers subsidize U.S. taxpayers. Because of the energy tax, producers would face lower demand and lower market prices; they would, in effect, pay perhaps a quarter of the energy tax, with consumers picking up the balance. Fuel-tax revenue would ease the pressure to raise taxes to plug the budget deficit, so Americans would come out ahead; they would be getting Saudi Arabia's help in rebuilding the nation's finances. Air quality, climatic stability and U.S. foreign policy would all gain, too. And really, as the new Mr. Bush might say, how painful would it be to consume a bit less energy once the initial lifestyle adjustments are made? Is it really so terrible to walk to the bus stop? Or to wear cardigans in the office?

From a U.S. standpoint, the Post's suggestion would make some sense in an administration that was interested in rationally appraising policy with no strong bias toward given industries. But surely the Post has seen too much of how Bushco actually operates to believe that its nominal head wants to let his oil-industry cronies pay even a portion of the cost of a new tax when he can let future taxpayers handle the bill instead.

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