As oil coats the coastlines of San Francisco Bay and Russia’s Black Sea, its cost is shooting toward $100 a barrel. Pump prices around the country are heading to new records. Yet even if we end up with $5-a-gallon gas, we’ll still be paying less than people in almost all other countries except the major oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Europeans have been forking over more than that for years. Even so, a typical American spends a far greater total sum each year on gas than a typical European, because the American drives much more. Part of this zeal for the road is just sheer necessity: This, after all, is a vast land with a lot of miles between major cities. But most of our driving is simple inefficiency. We don’t think to bundle all our errands for the week into one trip because it just doesn’t cost that much to jump into the car whenever the mood strikes.
A high gas tax could change all that. Writing in The New York Times this week, Thomas Friedman proposed just such a “patriot tax” as a way to free America from reliance on foreign oil. The benefits, he argues, are legion. Decreased U.S. gas consumption would cause world oil prices to fall, hitting the economies of contrary states such as Iran and Russia. And consumer demand for fuel-efficient cars would force the U.S. auto industry to enact the reforms it needs to compete with Japan and Germany. Still, Friedman’s proposal is not likely to find political backing. Out of the dozen or so candidates still in the presidential race, guess how many favor a gas tax? Zero. - Susan Caskie