Monday, October 24, 2005

Terrorism and Global Warming: Crisis Issues?

Today the New York Times published a pro-gas tax editorial. I agree with almost all of its substance except I’m confused by its first sentence. “There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming.” Is there a crisis with respect to either of these issues? Both pose risks to our day to day life but does this equal a crisis?

I could see that policy activists would like people to believe that these are “crisis issues” because this would increase the likelihood that innovative policies will be adopted as the public clamors for Congress to “do something”. I’m not sure why the Times engages in this overheated rhetoric. Do their editors really get so breathless as they think about day to day life? Or do they think that their enthusiastic cheerleading will make some Scarsdale Mom write a letter to her Representative?

There are costs and benefits of fighting terrorism using our scarce resources. There are costs and benefits of mitigating greenhouse gas production using our scarce resources. Ideally, these decisions could be approached in Spock from Star Trek logical way rather than turning to Dr. McCoy.

Gas Taxes: Lesser Evil, Greater Good
October 24, 2005

“There's no serious disagreement that two major crises of our time are terrorism and global warming. Now, however, the energy risks so apparent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have created both the urgency and the political opportunity for the nation's leaders to respond appropriately. The government must capitalize on the end of the era of perpetually cheap gas, and it must do so in a way that makes America less vulnerable to all manner of threats - terrorist, environmental and economic.
The best solution is to increase the federal gasoline tax, in order to keep the price of gas near its post-Katrina highs of $3-plus a gallon. That would put a dent in gas-guzzling behavior, as has already been seen in the dramatic drop in the sale of sport-utility vehicles. And it would help cure oil dependency in the long run, as automakers and other manufacturers responded to consumer demand for fuel-efficient products.”

The Editorial was also weak with respect to the efficiency costs of gas taxes. Do high gas prices cause recessions? Or was this past historical relationship a statistical artifact?