In discussions about about high gas prices, global warming, etc., it is not uncommon to hear someone say that what we really need to put more money into public transit, as this will help energy conservation. But as the above chart shows, more public transit may not actually save us all that much energy. If, that is, it saves us any at all.
Rising prices at the gas pump appear to be having at least one positive effect: Traffic deaths around the country are plummeting, just as they did during the Arab oil embargo three decades ago.
Researchers with the National Safety Council report a 9 percent drop in motor vehicle deaths overall through May compared with the first five months of 2007, including a drop of 18 percent in March and 14 percent in April.
Preliminary figures obtained by The Associated Press show that some states have reported declines of 20 percent or more. Thirty-one states have seen declines of at least 10 percent, and eight states have reported an increase, according to the council.
No one can say definitively why road fatalities are falling, but it is happening as Americans cut back sharply on driving because of record-high gas prices.
Fewer people on the road means fewer fatalities, said Gus Williams, 52, of Albany, Ga., who frequently drives to northern Ohio. “That shows a good thing coming out of this crisis.” He has also noticed that many motorists are going slower.
Ezra Klein, on the advantages of cap and trade:
A cap and trade carbon plan will raise the cost of carbon intensive products like gasoline. That’s how it works to discourage carbon consumption. By capping emissions, and then lowering the cap, it makes carbon-intensive products relatively more expensive, which in turn increases the economic incentives to purchase, and develop, non-carbon intensive products.
This, in the short-term, makes gasoline more expensive. That’s the point of it. There are a variety of ways to compensate people for making gasoline more expensive, but gasoline will still be more expensive. That’s going to make cap and trade a tough sell. But that doesn’t mean it will be bad for the economy, or bad for people in general. Money not spent on gasoline is money spent on other things. As carbon-intensive products become pricier, other products will become cheaper. Lots of good stuff will happen, and my sense is that a move away from oil will actually entail significant lifestyle benefits. That’s why I talk about transit and food policy a lot. Transit is awesome. Not sitting in traffic makes people happier. Riding on subways is fun.
As my co-blogger at Vox-Nova Katerina noted last week, Senators Clinton and McCain favor a temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax, as a means of lowering voters pain at the pump. Senator Obama, by contrast, is opposed to such a measure, favoring instead a “windfall profits” tax for oil companies (Clinton favors a windfall profits tax in addition to the gas tax holiday, while McCain is opposed).
To say that economists aren’t supportive of Clinton and McCain’s gas tax holiday idea would be an understatement. Indeed, there wasn’t a single economist who appeared ready to defend the idea. Until now, that is. Yesterday’s New York Times contains an op-ed by Bryan Caplan, an econ professor at George Mason, arguing that considering the alternatives, the gas tax holiday is a pretty good deal:
[T]he tax holiday is a relatively cheap symbolic gesture that makes truly bad policies less likely. The main causes of high gas prices are probably factors beyond our control, like rapid growth in China and India and low real interest rates. But voters don’t want to hear this; they want politicians to “do something!”
During our last big energy crisis, in the 1970s, “something” turned out to be a salad of populist nonsense: price controls, rationing, windfall profits taxes, arcane loopholes and lots of lawsuits. That political response turned an inconvenience into a disaster. Continue reading
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