Ponderings

Spoke with Mom this morning...she's resting at home, and letting Dad and my Aunt Norie take care of her, which makes me smile. She's taken care of so many people her whole life...thanks to everyone who's written-in and keep up those prayers. I heard from Stu and Cathy that churches throughout the Louisville area are praying for Mom -- neighbors of theirs and their prayer groups. She goes in Friday for the lowdown on where things are and what the next steps are.

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My Toyota and I have a love/hate relationship: It loves me, and I hate it. I inherited Whitney's car as a daily driver/kid schlepper after my Beamer sprang a leak. On paper, it's a wonderful idea--quiet, simple, reliable transportation. Modern safety features. Four doors. Better mileage. Better in bad weather.

All that's true, but I can't get over the feeling I'm driving a tin can, powered by 1.5 melancholy hamsters. It goes down the road well, but isn't too excited about speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction.

* * *

I'm pondering a wildly unpopular idea, one which will reassure my wife I've become a Democrat--if not an outright Socialist: Why not use a substantial fuel tax to start changing people's behavior? (Yes, I'm a car nut. Yes, I'm a Republican. Like I said--I'm pondering this idea)

Okay, my reasoning:

1. America's weakened position in the world exists (to an extent) because we're at the mercy of whatever potentate or terrorist sells oil. Even beyond the logistics of it all, the oil markets hinge on every hiccup in supply and rise in demand.

2. Traditionally, the government uses tax incentives to reward good behavior and outright taxes to discourage bad behavior. It's a blunt instrument, but it works. The government wished to encourage home ownership, so mortgage interest became tax-deductible. We wanted people to hold stocks longer-term to promote stability, so short terms capital gains are taxed as ordinary income, but long-term gains are at a flat rate. This can get gimmicky (Hybrids? Ugh...), but over time, it works.

3. Europe discouraged people from too much personal consumption too ways: It placed a 100% tax on fuel. Even when oil was $20/barrel, Europeans were paying the equivalent of $5/gallon for gasoline. Furthermore, they saw that diesel engines were more efficient than gasoline (40->50mpg versus 20->30 mpg), so they constructed the taxes so that diesel was $1/gallon cheaper than gas. Result? Over 50% of the cars in Europe today are diesel, and they lead the world in developing powerful, efficient diesel engines. BMW's 335d is nearly as fast as the scorching 335i bi-turbo, and gets 35mpg.

4. Alternative sources could wean us off oil, but they need funding and they need a means to compete. Gas prices are getting there, but with the fuel tax funnelled directly to research or into building Nuclear/Hydrogen/Fuel-cell/uobtainium infrastructure, presumably they could get there in time for my kids to enjoy those benefits.

This is all just economics. I'm not even considering the environmental aspects...after all, I'm a Republican. :-) From a long-term economic perspective, we need to wean ourselves from oil in 1 generation, and it will take concerted effort to do it.

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