Pump Price, Miles Driven, and Energy Taxes

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Inspired (as I often am) by either the insights or the foolishness of a guest post at Judith Curry’s always-provocative blog, I decided to take a look at the relationship between fuel price and miles driven. My inspiration came from my amusement at the guest author’s use of the following graph to establish a relationship between fuel cost and how much people use their cars. I think a relationship exists, but the graph used by the author doesn’t show it. Figure 1 shows that graph:

per capita fuel use vs pricein oecd countriesFigure 1. Per capita fuel use, compared to the fuel price, for the OECD countries. SOURCE

Now, it certainly looks like there’s a clear relationship there, but that’s an illusion. My objection to the graph was, the countries divide into two groups. On the bottom right you have the European OECD countries, plus Japan. Plus one fish.

On the top left, you have the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. What’s not to like?

Well, ignoring fuel price for the moment, who would you think would drive more miles—a citizen of the US, or a citizen of Japan? An Aussie, or a Belgian? A Canadian, or an Italian? So all the guest author has shown in that graph is that the folks in large countries, with miles and miles between cities, drive more than Europeans and Japanese.

But of course, I couldn’t leave it there, so I linked to the following lovely graph of automobile use in the US that I ran across during my research. It shows, year by year since 1956, how many miles Americans have driven, and what the gas price was during that year.

driving shifts into reverseFigure 2. Miles driven compared to the fuel price. Click to embiggen. SOURCE

Now that shows some very interesting patterns. The main oddity I noticed is that there is what might be termed a price shock effect—in the year of a big jump in prices, for example 1974, the mileage driven drops compared to the previous year. But then look what happens from 1974 to 1978 … the price stays stable, but the number of miles driven each year goes up steadily, without reversal.

But of course, I couldn’t leave it there. I digitized the data, to see what kind of relationships I could understand and reveal through further analysis. And as usual, I was surprised by what I found.

First, taking the data as it is given, there is no statistically significant relationship between the two variables, pump price and miles driven. The R2 is only 0.03. (“R2” is a measure of the relationship between two datasets, where an R2 of 1.0 indicates a perfectly linear relationship between the two, and an R2 of 0.00 indicates no relationship. So an R2 of 0.03 is … well … pathetic. So as far as a direct relationship between prices and miles driven, not happening.

Once I saw that, I wondered, well, what if I include a temporal trend in the linear regression? The way that I usually do that is simply to include the date as a variable. And to my surprise, the R2 went from 0.03 up to 0.98 … Figure 3 shows an emulation (multiple linear regression result) of the number of miles that Americans drive, versus the value estimated based on year and pump price.

emulation miles driven given pump price yearFigure 3. The emulation is a multiple linear regression, using the year and the pump price as independent variables, and the actual average miles driven by Americans as the dependent variable. R2 = 0.98

Dang, sez I … that’s pretty impressive.

But of course, I couldn’t leave it there.  A fixed annual increment, a simple trend like I used, is just a way to understand the data. It’s not an explanation involving some plausible mechanism. And more to the point, I also didn’t like those two years up at the top right of Figure 3, which are 2009 and 2010. In those years, Americans drove about a thousand miles less than expected. So I though about why that might be, and even a bear of little brain would go “global financial meltdown, duh”. And that made sense overall as well, because how far I drive doesn’t just depend on the pump price. It also depends in part on how much money I have in my jeans. When I’m flush I drive more, and when times get hard, I drive less regardless of the price of gas.

So I thought that instead of using the year, I’d try using the per-capita GDP as the second independent variable. Figure 4 shows those results.

emulation miles driven given pump price GDPFigure 4. The emulation is a multiple linear regression, using the real per capita GDP and the pump price as independent variables, and the actual average miles driven by Americans as the dependent variable. R^2 = 0.98 GDP SOURCE

Yowzah! Now that’s what I call shaving with Occam’s razor. It turns out that pump price and per capita GDP do an excellent job of estimating the number of miles driven, with very little error.

So, what does the magic equation that gives us the excellent results shown in Figure 4 say about the relationship between miles driven on the one hand, and gas price and per capita GDP on the other?

Well, it says that for every twenty-five-cent increase in the pump price of gas, Americans drive about a hundred miles less. Gas price goes up, miles driven go down. Makes sense.

And it says that for every $430 increase in per capita GDP, Americans drive about a hundred miles more. Wealth goes up, miles driven goes up. Also makes sense.

Now, the “carbon taxes” I’ve seen discussed are on the order of $20-$30 per tonne of CO2. And by coincidence, $28 per tonne of CO2 emitted is equal to twenty-five cents per gallon of gasoline. So if a $28/tonne carbon tax is imposed on gasoline, how much less might Americans drive?

Well … a hundred miles less … wow, such a stupendous gain, be still, my beating heart …

And how much actual change in our driving habits is a hundred miles less per year?

Well … since Americans drive about 10,000 miles per year, it’s a gigantic, massive reduction in miles driven of one percent.

And that, dear friends, is all the bang you get for your twenty-five-cent per gallon carbon based energy tax. A one percent reduction in miles driven. One freaking percent, and they want to impoverish the poor for that? Grrrr ….

So … what does this mean for the debate on carbon-based energy taxes?

First, it means that in the American situation, there is no way that the benefits of energy taxes are worth the cost. Why? Because the effect of a typical CO2-based energy tax on miles driven is minuscule, only a 1% reduction for a $28 per tonne of CO2 energy tax.

Next, a very slight increase in per capita GDP will nullify the energy tax entirely. Also by coincidence, it turns out that if the current per capita GDP goes up by about 1% (~$430), that will increase the mileage driven by 100 miles … so a 1% increase in per capita GDP will completely nullify a $28 per tonne of CO2 energy tax. And the GDP goes up by one percent all the time …

Next, it means that in order to have more than a one-year effect, the tax will have to continually rise.

The problem with a carbon based energy tax can be seen by thinking back to Figure 2, where I noted the “shock effect”, and how after the slight reduction in miles driven as a result of the 1974 big jump in pump price, after that one-year reduction the miles driven went right back to increasing year after year, with no change in the gas price.

So a one-time jump in the price will make little difference, just a one-year reduction in the miles driven. But by the next year or two, assuming that the per-capita GDP continues to rise as it has in the past, the miles driven will be rising again.

Next, it means that a carbon-based gasoline tax is wildly regressive. To see why, let me start with a slight digression, by bringing in a concept from accounting, that of “fixed”, “variable”, and “semi-variable” costs.

Fixed costs are those costs you can’t do anything about. The amounts are fixed, you can’t reduce them, you just have to pay them.. Maybe rent. Taxes.

Variable costs are costs that are entirely optional. Think maybe eating at restaurants. You don’t have to spend a penny on that if you don’t want to.

Semi-variable costs are costs that you can change, but you can’t eliminate entirely. These would be things like food costs. You can run them up or down, but you can’t eliminate them.

Now, think about the corresponding concepts as applied to the subject at hand—fixed, variable, and semi-variable miles driven.

Fixed miles are things like a commute to work. Short of changing your job or your residence, you can’t change that. You just rack up those miles every year.

Variable miles are things on the order of visiting Grandma in Arizona. You love to do it, but you don’t have to go.

Semi-variable miles are things like going to the post office to get your mail. You can cut the trips down, but not to zero.

What this graph shows me is that any energy tax on gasoline will hit the hardest on the poorest, the people who mostly use their car to get to work. The problem is not just that more of the wages of the poor go to energy, although that is also a problem.

But in addition to the higher percentage of their wages going to energy, the majority of their miles are fixed miles, so they can’t cut back on them. They have to drive them, so they have to pay the tax.

For the wealthy, on the other hand, lots of their miles driven are variable or semi-variable, so they can just scale down a bit. The energy tax means nothing to them. But for the poor, it can be a budget-buster.

This is one of the many reason why energy taxes are so regressive—because for the poor, fixed costs for everything squeeze them all the time, not just fixed fuel costs but also the other bills they have to pay every month. So when energy prices go up, Al Gore and James Hansen just cut back on visiting the grandchildren they love to talk about, no problem for them.

But the single mom whose gas budget barely covers getting to work, she can’t cut back on her gas use, it’s already cut to the bone. So when she pays the energy tax, she is forced to cut back on something for either the kids or herself.

And all of that for a pathetic 1% reduction in miles driven. That’s criminal.

Now please, folks, don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that it’s OK to harm the poor because of that well-worn fantasy, the fabulous claim that wealth redistribution will make it all OK. It won’t. Anyone who believes it will make it all OK has not spent enough time around government programs.

To start with, even the best-intentioned programs only reach a percentage of those most affected. Next, the poorer that people are, the less likely they are to hear about such programs. Think people living in apartments versus people living in their cars. Next, the paperwork required is all too often complex, confusing, and intrusive. Next, many of the poorest people are mistrustful of government. Also, immigrants are often equally fearful of government, and many don’t speak the language. Next, the people who end up getting the most benefits are often not those who suffered the most losses. Next, administering such a program requires a large expensive workforce of bureaucrats and paper pushers to make it function. And of course, they’re all Union, can’t be fired, plus we’ll be stuck paying these pluted bloatocrats their megabucks in retirement money ’til they shuffle off to a warmer place … and I’m not thinking Florida. Next, as with any government program, waste will consume more than you imagine. Think IRS conferences in Las Vegas and thousand dollar hammers. Next, parasitic rent-seekers like lawyers and consultants will be circling the honey-pot and making off with some of that good honey. And finally, there’s never been a government program that people didn’t scam, game, and cheat, so somewhere between a little and a lot of money will simply be stolen.

So no, wealth distribution will only make things worse, or on the best day with a following wind it might “break even” by taking from one bunch of the poor and giving to another bunch … and meanwhile the people at the bottom of the economic pile are hit the hardest. And whether you are a conservative or a liberal, that should appall you.

And finally … we’re going to create all that pain and create a giant bureaucracy and waste piles of money for a crappy 1% reduction in miles driven, a temporary reduction that will be wiped out by the next 1% increase in per capita GDP?

Really? That’s the brilliant plan? Screw the poor and the economy for a 1% reduction in miles driven?

Spare me. That’s more than foolish, that’s a crime against the indigent and everyone else in the country. Almost any other conceivable response to the imagined horrors of CO2 would be preferable. Taxes on energy are destructive and damaging to individuals, to businesses, to the environment, to the economy, and more than anything to the poor, and to turn it from mindless idiocy to criminal tragedy, there is nothing to show for it at the end of the day but a temporary 1% reduction in miles driven—from an energy tax, there’s no lasting gain, only lasting pain.

w.

DATA: The spreadsheet with the data and graphs is here.

[UPDATE] I just wondered, how much will the $28 per tonne of CO2 gasoline tax cost per year? Average fuel economy of the US fleet, cars and trucks, is about twenty mpg. Average person drives ten thousand miles, at twenty mpg that’s five hundred gallons. The tax at twenty-five cents per gallon on five hundred gallons is $125 per year.

In response to that tax, we can expect people to cut fuel use by 1%, or 5 gallons per year. Gas is around four bucks a gallon, so that’s $20 worth.

So the plan is to charge the average driver $125 per year in gas tax, and in response to that he’ll use $20 less gas, reducing his bill at the pump from $2,000 per year to $1,980 per year and cutting his CO2 emissions by a whacking great 1% … who thinks these plans up, and how can we catch them and stop them?

[UPDATE 2] I also got to wondering, just how much CO2 would a $28 per tonne of CO2 applied to gasoline consumption actually save? There’s 8.9 kg (19.6 pounds) of CO2 in a gallon of gasoline. Crazy but true, it’s the extra weight of the oxygen. So we’d be saving one whole percent of that, or .089 kg per gallon. Multiply that by the number of gallons of gasoline burned in the US, about 134E+9 gallons, and we end up with 0.01 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes, E+9 tonnes) of CO2 saved.

And compared to a hundredth of a gigatonne, how large are the global CO2 emissions? Well, it’s about 9 gigatonnes of carbon C emitted per year, so as CO2 the mass is (16 + 16 + 12) / 12 of that to allow for the extra weight of the oxygen, or 33 gigatonnes of CO2 per year.

And the $28 carbon based energy tax would reduce that by 0.01 gigatonnes of CO2, which is a reduction of  three hundredths of one percent (0.03%) … folks, have we truly gone so mad that such a trivial gain, three hundredth of one percent reduction in CO2 emissions, so small as to be absolutely unmeasurable, is used to justify this crazy tax?

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100% correct. Most Europeans have no concept of how big North America is. I live 45 km from the nearest town, 110 km from the nearest city and 200 km from a city over 100,000 people where major health care exists. I have to drive anywhere from 45 to 200 km for farm equipment parts depending on what I need or have it couriered. Fuel price is just a cost of doing business, or the cost of my horse and skiing addictions so I adjust other “discretionary” expenses to cover my “fuel” costs regardless of the ridiculous amount of “road taxes” we pay. I do, however, avoid travelling in BC as much as possible due to their incredulously higher road taxes. – Hurtin’ Albertan 😏

Greg

Good analysis Willis, but you’re missing one thing. Feedback.
1% is first step response. But as the $25 / tn starts to impact the rest of the ecomony, GDP goes down, then mileage goes down again. And it’s not just mileage. People buy less of everything, less GDP, less mileage.
So as carbon tax strangles the life out of an ailing ecomony the “benefits” will be far greater than 1%.
😉

oldseadog

How much of the energy tax will be used up in paying the salaries and expenses of the extra people needed to administer the scheme?
My bet would be “most of it.”

Willis Eschenbach

Greg says:
July 10, 2013 at 12:23 am

Good analysis Willis, but you’re missing one thing. Feedback.

Thanks, Greg, and that’s true, but for an introduction to price elasticity, it’s too much information.
Remember, I need to not only write this. I have to defend it against all attacks as well. And since I have no figures on the economic slowdown from a carbon-based fuel tax, it becomes speculation. I prefer to stick to things I have actual measurements of, much easier to defend.
w.

Jon

Socialist Norway tax the use of cars heavy:
1. About 100% more expensive to buy than in Germany.
2. Fuel prices 2,30 USD a LITER.
3. And a yearly tax of about 500 USD
4. Toll roads are about 1,50 – 3.00 USD per 10 km and pop up everywhere
http://www.nettavisen.no/motor/article3468801.ece
It feels as if the car is public enemy number one?

Lew Skannen

Well analysed and well said.
Demonstrably true.

Another factor hurting the poor is that rich people drive newer cars and gas is a smaller percentage of their mobility expense. So all they have to do is delay a new car purchase by a few months! Low income people driving 20 year old cars have less money to save by this option. (Average car age in USA is 10 years.)
The greenies say we could just start using transit. But they never look at the numbers, because if they did, they would find a whole lot of transit trips cost more than driving a car you already own. And if many people switched to transit, the system would break down because, in the USA, about 70-80% of transit cost is paid by taxes on non users who would see their taxes skyrocket to pay for all the new riders.
BTW, the other thing the greenies ignore is that transit uses MORE energy per passenger-mile than modern cars.
Thanks
JK

David Chappell

Willis for President

David

The only thing achieved by taxes generally is the redistribution of poverty.

Sceptical Sam

Willis, the fallacy in your otherwise splendid analysis is that you ascribe the motivation for the tax is to reduce the level of that lovely plant food known as CO2.
Realists know that the real motivation of governments in instituting these rip-offs is money. Money that they can spend on more socialist nanny state nonsense. CO2 reduction is just a convenient excuse that has the support of greens who are married to the CAGW ideology.
If you want to fix it you have to get rid of the socialists and the green left.

JohnM

Jim
That’s interesting. Do you have data for that?

FijiDave

Bula, Willis
“And how much actual change in our driving habits is a hundred miles less per year?
Well … since Americans drive about 10,000 miles per year, it’s a gigantic, massive reduction in miles driven of one percent.”
Kerekere, do this calculation again? Vinaka.
Dave

Kasuha

New Zealand does not exactly count as a big country. It’s smaller than Japan.
My opinion is, there is some truth to the initial graph. But the dependency is not straightforward.

wikeroy

Willis says;
“and how can we catch them and stop them?”
You can’t. It’s probably a lost battle. It was lost the day the Vikings stopped traveling to the “Ting” and discussing/voting on important issues. When they decided to leave that to “others”. The political classes emerged.

Willis Eschenbach

FijiDave says:
July 10, 2013 at 1:30 am

Bula, Willis
“And how much actual change in our driving habits is a hundred miles less per year?
Well … since Americans drive about 10,000 miles per year, it’s a gigantic, massive reduction in miles driven of one percent.”
Kerekere, do this calculation again? Vinaka.
Dave

Hey, Dave, good to hear from you. The calculation?
100/10000 = 1%
w.

Willis Eschenbach

Kasuha says:
July 10, 2013 at 1:34 am

New Zealand does not exactly count as a big country. It’s smaller than Japan.
My opinion is, there is some truth to the initial graph. But the dependency is not straightforward.

Thanks, Kasuha. Normally, you would just control for country size … but whoever made the graph didn’t do that.
w.

David L.

Another factor behind figure 1 is the difference in public transportation between those countries. Americans do not have the same extensive public transportation systems as they have in Europa. You can easily get around via rail in Europa whereas in the US it’s not as convenient.

FijiDave

Willis, thanks. My bad. Must’ve been something in the soup! 🙂

Paul Deacon

Kasuha said:
July 10, 2013 at 1:34 am
“New Zealand does not exactly count as a big country. It’s smaller than Japan.
My opinion is, there is some truth to the initial graph. But the dependency is not straightforward.”
***
I live in New Zealand. It is indeed a relatively small country, but it also has a relatively low population density. That may be a better pointer than country size.
More speculatively, while New Zealand is not as wealthy per capita as the USA, it is not poor, and people have enough money to travel for leisure activities in the great outdoors, something which NZ has in superabundance (ski-ing, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, beaches, scenery, etc.).
All the best.

John

I’m sorry, but this article is even more misleading to ones which have the author refers in the beginning.
The author argues: “Well, ignoring fuel price for the moment, who would you think would drive more miles—a citizen of the US, or a citizen of Japan?” However he failed to make a comparison Sweden to New Zealand, Iceland to USA or Canada, what has very similar population density. The total size of country doesn’t matter as very few people rides by car from one side to another anyway.
Population density could matter much more. Sweden has about 20 inhabitants pet km2, while USA have a little more than 30. Even more, most of people live in rather densely populated sates, like California or New York. In fact more than 50% live in states which is more densely populated than Ireland and about 85% live in states which is more densely populated than Sweden.
However even states like Texas most of people don’t have to cover great distances as they live in a city. Even in Texas about 80% of people live in large metropolitan areas, where, if they were reasonably designed, there wouldn’t be need for car.
The author see the trees, but miss the forest. The life in USA is as it is because of cheap petrol everybody have adopted to it. The period when it was expensive was very short and people didn’t change their behavior to adopt to new situation. However in Europe most of people has adopted to take train to work if it is great distance or to cycle if it is short distance or to take a bus or metro if it is medium distance. When You drive, it is a work, when You go by train, You may do other things, like read news, play games, chat with other people, whatever You wish. If the petrol price would be in Europe for 20 years much would change and there would be much more people who would drop driving 3 hours a day.
GDP measures economical activity, not the welfare, You may do many things what doesn’t give any actual service to You nor society, spending 3 hours a day in a car is one example. More miles doesn’t mean better life, it could mean opposite actually. It really doesn’t matter how much You earn, it matter, what can You do and when You waste most of time to ride, You don’t have any left.
For example I cycle to work and hardly ever use car as there is sufficient infrastructure of public transport and daily life is organised in a reasonable way. I benefit from physical activities, I benefit from short travel times.
In short term the increase of price will hurt the poor, but in long run they would be forced to change their habits and they may even benefit from the increase.

TimTheToolMan

Since the figure is “per capita” I assume its not “per capita of car owners” and so one possible confounding factor to your analysis is increasing car ownership (even by the poor) means increasing miles per capita with no individual driving more or less.
The other confounding factor is increasing efficiency over that period where for the same gallon of gas you get to drive further.

Steve Taylor

@Wayne Delbeke
Wayne, Most Europeans don’t even know how big EUROPE is. I can fly for 5 hours east of the UK and still be in “Europe”. Most think it ends somewhere like Poland.

TimTheToolMan

The other thing of note about that graph is that throughout the entire time shown 1956-2010 there has always been an increasing number of miles driven with the few exceptions being single years of slight decrease at times of economic hardship and in one case two years.
For the years 2006 onwards (ie through 2010 as shown), there has been constant decrease.

KenB

Pretty simple take all taxpayer funded cars off the road first, make the legislators experience the gain and the pain for a full 12 months. All the walking and experience of public transport will orientate their thinking. Now thinking of Al Gore and his level of fuelled use……

Lil Fella from OZ

Australia is a big country with a relative low population which means auto travel is essential, At once stage, nearly two decades ago, I was clocking up 40,000 klms per year. With only one long trip of play. I was travelling in the outback, an odd property or two were 100 klms (60 miles) from the main highway, then there was further travelling to a town! That is not unusual in the outback, some properties far exceed these distances. You simply cannot get around auto use.

johanna

Nice post, Willis.
It is also worth noting (as someone mentioned above) that population density affects car use significantly. In the medium sized town where my relatives live in The Netherlands, just about everything they need is a walk or a short bike ride away. Large countries like the US, Canada and Australia typically have much lower population densities, not least because they can. If you run out of milk, or have a doctor’s appointment, or just have to go to and from work, the distances and inflexibility/absence of public transport mean that using your car is the only option for many people, including the poor.
One thing missing from your post is the effect of greatly improved fuel efficiency in modern cars, which has mitigated the effect of fuel price rises. I have looked around, but can’t find anything reliable in the way of numbers on this, and am not criticising you at all. But the point is, with ever increasing taxes on rising base prices, people who can afford to buy modern cars (not the poor, BTW) have had the impoverishing effect of higher prices hidden from them. They should be financially a lot better off than they were ten years ago for the same number of miles driven, but those gains have been imperceptibly snatched from them, mostly by governments.

D. Cohen

Near the beginning of your article you state
“And more to the point, I also didn’t like those two years up at the top right of Figure 3, which are 2009 and 2010. In those years, Americans drove about a thousand miles less than expected. So I though about why that might be, and even a bear of little brain would go “global financial meltdown, duh”. And that made sense overall as well, because how far I drive doesn’t just depend on the pump price. It also depends in part on how much money I have in my jeans. When I’m flush I drive more, and when times get hard, I drive less regardless of the price of gas.”
This perhaps misses a lot of the basic phenomenon, which is that many jobs were lost, so that much less commuting to and from work took place. Lots miles are driven because people have to go somewhere rather than because they want to go somewhere, with going to work at the top of the list.
I admire your willingness to jump right in and start analyzing things that interest you, but what you are trying to do now looks like stone-cold economic analysis. The track record of economics since the discipline was invented several centuries ago does not inspire confidence.

Willis Eschenbach

D. Cohen says:
July 10, 2013 at 2:59 am

… I admire your willingness to jump right in and start analyzing things that interest you, but what you are trying to do now looks like stone-cold economic analysis. The track record of economics since the discipline was invented several centuries ago does not inspire confidence.

Me, I admire your willingness to offer up vague criticisms without actually specifying a single error I’ve made …
w.

JohnM says (July 10, 2013 at 1:27 am ):
Jim
That’s interesting. Do you have data for that?

John Silver
jimbob

There’s something off with the original graph imho. Average miles per car in the uk (second hand prie guides) is 9000-12000 miles per annum. Everyone in the UK knows the price of fuel is a function of govenrment policy to squeeze the pips until they squeak, it has zero to do with demographics – more to do with fuel protests that have brought the country to a halt in the recent past.
Moreover what is the relevance of fuel cost per capita? Japan, Switzerland and the Nordic states are reputeded to have the best mass transit rail systems which will be mostly electric.
I suggest the graph was chosen to support an argument rather than vice versa.

JohnM says (July 10, 2013 at 1:27 am ):
Jim – That’s interesting. Do you have data for that?
JK—Look at the line labeled”Purchase expenditure One car$” at http://www.portlandfacts.com/carcost.html
Annual car purchase costs varies from $571 to $1734 as income goes from $5000 to $70,000+/yr while the operation cost (on the next line) only varies from $2127 to $2570. (I guess the older cars are driven less and have more repairs.)
(sorry about the incomplete post above)

Mikeyj

Wayne Delbeke says:
July 10, 2013 at 12:06 am
” Most Europeans have no concept of how big North America is.”
Most Americans don’t know how big America is . In fact most New Yorkers don’t even know that there is an America outside of New York City. Not too sure about the Hollywood liberals either when it comes to where the normal people live.

Mikeyj

John says:
July 10, 2013 at 2:12 am
“In short term the increase of price will hurt the poor, but in long run they would be forced to change their habits and they may even benefit from the increase.”
They will die, which is what you want. Less people less pollution.

Any time I see an article or story based on the idea of “Other countries do this, therefore America should do that……….”.
I stop reading.
Good work Willis.
My miles driven for the past 10 years is almost the same each year because no matter what the cost of fuel, I have to get to work.

Mikeyj says:
July 10, 2013 at 4:11 am
Most Americans don’t know how big America is . In fact most New Yorkers don’t even know that there is an America outside of New York City. Not too sure about the Hollywood liberals either when it comes to where the normal people live.
=======================================================================
Most of America is “Flyover country” for East coast Liberals and West coast Liberals.

H.R.

Willis wrote in part:
“What this graph shows me is that any energy tax on gasoline will hit the hardest on the poorest, the people who mostly use their car to get to work. The problem is not just that more of the wages of the poor go to energy, although that is also a problem.”
==========================================================
A-a-a-nd… it’s to save the grandchildren from the oceans boiling away and the oceans flooding everywhere (wish they’d make up their minds). Woopsie. Kill off enough people and there won’t be any grandchildren to worry about…
Wait up! Problem solved. I guess government can come up with a solution after all, when they put their minds to it. (/bitter sarc really necessary?)

John

I didn’t know that anybody needs a car to survive. I wonder how people survived 100 years ago.
I would say that at least 80% of poor people wouldn’t need a car if there would be sufficient public transport system. They would save money as well and could afford more and could have better life, but it is
USA shouldn’t do anything because other countries do something in a different way. However, everybody should understand why inhabitants of USA drive so much. It doesn’t have to do anything with the size of country, but first, culture, and second, lack of public transportation.
I just wonder, does the car owners pay that much money to maintain roads?

Mike M

The interstate highway system, authorized in 1956, was a definite factor in the acceleration of miles driven. According to wikibooks, the interstate road system grew to 10k by 1960, 20k by 1965 and 30k in 1970.
As a little kid I still vaguely remember what driving was like just before the interstate roads were built – kind of like what driving in Ireland is still like today.
Don’t tell the green hoaxsters that they could make a HUGE dent in US CO2 emissions, avoid raising taxes and save billions in highway maintenance costs all at the same time, (to spend on more EBT cards) – simply shut down all the interstate roadways! Then they’ll REALLY be “popular” for stopping this nasty claimte change we’re all suffering…

Watchman

Population density on its own shows nothing – if we have a population density of 1 per square mile, but also a density of 1 per square mile of every conceivable service or amenity (assuming no need for travel to run them) and assuming that these distributions are evenly spread, then there would be minimal travel. But normally a population density of 1 per square mile would imply extensive travel as services and amenities are not that common…
To take a real example, John’s comparison of Sweden and New Zealand, then Sweden does have lower population density. This may be a factoring of averages though, as Sweden has large basically unoccupied tracts of wilderness along it’s western border and to the north (apologies to any Sami reading who may wish to point out this is perfectly habitable and pleasant non-wilderness), and a concentration of population in the flatter and fertile south and east, whereas New Zealand’s population are spread around most of the coasts of the islands (its wilderness tends to be the middle bits, so are more evenly distributed and have larger distances to travel between them. Population density does not show this, but a bit of basic knowledge does.
The qualifying measure should probably be something like average distance from home to [basket of destinations/frequency of use of these destinations], which would probably be a rather epic effort to pull together with any accuracy, especially as the usage pattern of say hospitals or supermarkets varies between each country involved. But then again, if you want to make the case for a tax with obvious negative risks, then perhaps you should be prepared to do this sort of work rather than simply graph price versus distance (which looks to be a secondary/high school exercise rather than a serious attempt to make a case). To actually put some intellectual effort into your case (a la Willis) is the least people can do – the failure to do so marks so many suggestions for action, rather worryingly.

Bill Illis

This is a great article because it shows us something we did not know or understand before about something important. Every reader should now have a much better understanding. Good job Willis.
But, how come we have never seen the proponents of a Carbon tax do an analysis like this. They have responsibility to do so. But then, they don’t care what the impact is. They just know they want a Carbon tax.

starzmom

I can only offer anecdotal evidence, not hard numbers. I work in an inner city legal aid office. Our clients can get to us by bus, by car, by foot or by bicycle. Most clients have physical problems as well as financial issues. Bicycling or walking would be difficult for most of them, even if the roads were bike or foot friendly. They are left with the bus or a car. So far I have seen one client who used public transit to get to us, and he could not drive because of his eyesight. The rest have a car, or a friend with a car. Bottom line–gas prices are a big deal to these folks, and any increase hits very hard. Willis is absolutely right about the impact of an energy tax on the poor.

Bruce Cobb

John says:
July 10, 2013 at 2:12 am
In short term the increase of price will hurt the poor, but in long run they would be forced to change their habits and they may even benefit from the increase.
I call that the “let them eat cake” theory of economics. Using the same “logic” one could argue that raising food prices could also be a good thing, since many poor people are overweight, and would be forced to eat less.

Patrick

“John says:
July 10, 2013 at 4:58 am
I didn’t know that anybody needs a car to survive. I wonder how people survived 100 years ago.”
Or a computer, or a phone, or electricity, or petro-chemicals, or pharmaceuticals, or air travel, or things like TV. Really, do you read what you write?

Patrick

“John says:
July 10, 2013 at 4:58 am
I would say that at least 80% of poor people wouldn’t need a car if there would be sufficient public transport system.”
I would say you have no idea what poor really means. Try not only not being able to afford a car, let alone affording petrol to run it, but living in such poor conditions (Countries) that NO PUBLIC TRANSPORT EXISTS! Let’s not mention being able to afford food every day!
I don’t lose it often, but “John” is an idiot!

Mike M

John says: “I wonder how people survived 100 years ago. ”
Wonder no more, the answer is – no where NEAR as well as today!
In 1913 most everyone still got around by horse power, cars were a novelty with hardly any roads suitable for driving. Yeah, some cities were starting to get electric trolley service but still, in just about any US city in the summer time, as a great uncle told me way back when, THE STENCH WAS HORRENDOUS! People still had to get in to the city by horse. You couldn’t escape the smell or the heat because no one had air conditioning yet either. On top of that horse flies were everywhere, they got into everything – including your food which relied on a horse drawn ice carriage to stay fresh until you ate it.
If people from back then are up there listening to people today whining about ‘climate change’ I can’t imagine how hard they are laughing.
http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/the-next-page-the-city-horse-time-for-a-comeback-399466/

John

Population density shows more than area of a country.
To be honest, in my opinion density and size of country plays secondary role to determine fuel consumption. The affluence, the alternatives and the culture is main factors. All countries noted in the figure are affluent, I don’t think that there is any big difference because of it. Australia, USA, Canada and New Zealand are rather similar in this aspect.
Patrick, do You have any alternatives as effective as computer, phone, electricity, pharmaceuticals? I guess no, however commuting with car has alternatives.
It is impossible, that some can’t just accept that car riding is a cultural thing not economical.

One possibly significant variable that you could have included in your multi-linear regression is miles/gallon. It may be covarient with GDP. Both have gradually increased with time. It is certainly a more cost effective way of reducing CO2 emissions than increasing price.

Pertinax

John says:
July 10, 2013 at 2:12 am
“In short term the increase of price will hurt the poor, but in long run they would be forced to change their habits and they may even benefit from the increase.”
I hope you are a troll and not that…., well, let’s just say I hope you are a troll because really, “in long run they would be forced to change their habits and they may even benefit from the increase”?
Say I’m a part of a single wage family of eight. Money is very tight between food, medical, rent, utilities, and fuel, though no consumer debt. So, as a result of this tax my food, utility, and fuel costs go up, I cut out any remaining flexible variable costs and am still coming up short. Now I am, as you well note, “hurt”. Tell me, how exactly am I now going to change my habits to relive my situation so that may end up even better than when I started?
Two wages? The second will at best go to cover the increase in child care costs.
Public transportation? Costs more than driving. If costs go down, that primarily means that taxes have gone up to cover the losses. That doesn’t help me a bit.
Move closer to work? Cost of living within a three mile one way walking radius of work nearly doubles. That’s not going to help.
Or maybe you would be of the mind that we should die and decrease the surplus population.
I so hope you are a troll.

KenB

Watchman says:
July 10, 2013 at 5:13 am
You raise some good points, the more you think about such things, the more there are issues raised, I guess as an Australian visiting all the great things to see and do in New Zealand I have been responsible for seriously skewing their per head of population to miles travelled. Our Dollar was buying more and it was holidays (and work too at times) so cost of fuel never entered the equation, and all those Americans that were tossing prawns on a Barbie (who actually does that!!) all over Australia and boosting our mileage travelled and fuel used – sort of reminds me of all those climate models that miss vital factors like clouds and make assumptions, guesses, and someone pays out good money for speculation.
Thanks for making us think Willis – Politicians hate thinkers, thinkers question too many things!!