Even though conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer can often be a right-wing lunatic on a lot of issues (see, e.g.), he recently wrote a compelling article in (gulp) The Weekly Standard arguing for a hike in the national gas tax that deserves close attention. An excerpt (I recommend you read the whole thing):

Americans have a deep and understandable aversion to gasoline taxes. In a culture more single-mindedly devoted to individual freedom than any other, tampering with access to the open road is met with visceral opposition… But it’s not just love of the car. America is a nation of continental expanses. Distances between population centers can be vast. The mass-transit mini-car culture of Europe just doesn’t work in big sky country.

This combination of geography and romance is the principal reason gas taxes are so astonishingly low in America. The federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. In Britain, as in much of Europe, the tax approaches $4 per gallon–more than 20 times the federal levy here…

Today’s economic climate of financial instability and deepening recession, moreover, makes the piling on of new taxes–gasoline or otherwise–not just politically unpalatable but economically dubious in the extreme.

So why even think about it? Because the virtues of a gas tax remain what they have always been. A tax that suppresses U.S. gas consumption can have a major effect on reducing world oil prices. And the benefits of low world oil prices are obvious: They put tremendous pressure on OPEC, as evidenced by its disarray during the current collapse; they deal serious economic damage to energy-exporting geopolitical adversaries such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran; and they reduce the enormous U.S. imbalance of oil trade which last year alone diverted a quarter of $1 trillion abroad. Furthermore, a reduction in U.S. demand alters the balance of power between producer and consumer, making us less dependent on oil exporters. It begins weaning us off foreign oil, and, if combined with nuclear power and renewed U.S. oil and gas drilling, puts us on the road to energy independence.

Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein approve. Gotta give credit where credit is due…

Update: The case for a gas tax is made all the more compelling by recent auto industry sales data that show gas-guzzling SUV sales surging again due to — wait for it… — low gas prices!

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