This Los Angeles Times story should be required reading for the elites who want to deal with our Middle East / energy problems by hiking the federal gas tax.
As should be obvious but this story spells out in detail, high gasoline prices can be economically devasting for working- and middle-class people with long commutes. Here in L.A., for instance, a gallon of gas has been hovering between $3 and $3.50 a gallon for almost a year. (Back when gas was $1.50, I probably would have been amenable to a reasonable hike in the tax)
It's not too big a deal for people like me and Alicia, who live in the middle of the city and both have a commute of under 5 miles to work. But for middle class families who, in order to afford a house, live 50 or 100 miles away from their job -- you have to go well outside of Los Angeles to find a decent house for under $500,000 -- it's a betrayal. I understand the arguments about lowering demand for oil and, thus, reducing our energy dependence on the middle east. But this can't be the way to do it. For better or worse, millions of people organized their lives around the idea that they could afford to commute their job and have a house -- the basis of the American dream. And then there are people who live in rural areas and literally can't get anywhere without driving a long way.
How to deal with the sky high (compared to what they were just 2 years ago) gas prices currently set by the market is a whole separate issue. But for the government to purposely make gas $1 more expensive is grossly unfair.
It's no coincidence that it's elite, urban dwelling political opinion-havers like Thomas Friedman and Andrew Sullivan who support high gas taxes. They are in major cities with good public transportation. Most middle class families can't afford to live in safe neighborhoods with good public schools in cities like New York and D.C. Thus, they commute. And need gas.
And yes, I know there are proposals to have some sort of tax rebate for lower income people. But I don't believe that would work our fairly for everyone and it would either be incredibly inefficient or corrupt. The last thing we need to enact is more complicated social engineering via the tax code.
I'm all for reducing our dependence on Middle East oil for the obvious reasons. But the way to do that is to make cars more efficient by raising minimum mileage standards, investing in alternative energy, building better public transportation, etc. Until you offer those kinds of positive alternatives, you can't go changing the rules on middle class families.