Cutting Taxes One Minute; Raising Them the Next
I think theres a lot of people whod tell you long-term, raising the gas tax would be a good idea, OBrien said. Andy Serwer replied, Oh yeah. Thats right. But its politically suicidal to suggest that, as weve seen.
Serwer was reporting the amount of federal and state taxes factored into consumers gasoline costs, noting that Georgia had temporarily cut its gas taxes. His report on stubbornly high gas prices was filled with economic malfeasance:
money anyway: Serwer said other states were considering
gas tax cuts. But theres some downside, he said. Number
one, the states lose hundreds of millions of dollars of
revenue, and number two, it may discourage conservation.
On the other hand, maybe we all need a break. The idea that
tax relief is a loss to the government is the
standard media approach ignoring the fact that consumers
get to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Market manipulation: and number two, it may discourage conservation, Serwer said of gas tax cuts. If lower prices did result from a gas tax cut, then yes, demand would increase. More affordable gas is not the way to encourage conservation. Of course, Serwer didnt allow that the government might want to step aside and let the free market alone, rather than trying to encourage or discourage any economic behavior. Theres another problem he didnt point out: governments price-controlling behavior doesnt always have predictable effects. As The Wall Street Journal explained in a September 7 editorial, temporary gas tax relief doesnt mean consumers automatically benefit. If the savings are passed on to consumers, then more people will buy the lower-priced gas. That could lead to long lines or shortages in the areas with lower prices not exactly a consumers dream. Or, energy companies could feasibly maintain prices as they are and pocket the difference, and consumers would never see the tax relief.
Name your price: Serwer said gas stations are basically able to charge whatever they want. But that isnt the case. Station owners may want to lower their prices, but they cant afford to lose money on their product. And if they raise prices to a level where consumers refuse to buy, even if they want the price to be higher, it wont stay there. Prices are determined by demand for gas and the supply available to meet that demand.