Monday, November 26, 2007

Ron Paul's "Honest Look"

Representative Paul has put out a press release that proclaims him the champion of the working class, with plans to reduce the tax burden that we carry on our shoulders. What he does not describe is the effect that lifting that burden will do to the road at our feet. It's time to take an honest look at where his ideology is coming from and where legislative proposals based on that ideology will lead us. It's not a pretty picture.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan declared that government is the problem. He also talked about tax burdens, and stated his belief that not singling out any particular group to pay a higher price is somehow equitable, regardless of the differences in the ability of various economic classes of people to pay those prices in the first place. Government was set aside as a group outside of the people, and was set up as a straw man to be knocked down in speeches whenever necessary for political gain. This completely eliminated the notion that government is supposed to be of, by and for the people. We are the government, whether we want that responsibility or not, whether we are participating in it or not, and whether it seems to respond to our desires or not.

Paul's statement that "taxation is the most direct way government increases Americans' cost at the pump" is yet another way of separating the people from our government. Remember that our elected representatives in Congress debate and set those tax rates, and that they are approved by an elected President and enforced by locally elected or appointed officials. Fundamentally we the people tax ourselves in order to provide funds for highway maintenance, roads, transit and other costs associated with our transportation system. And this is not a sales tax that you calculate based on the purchase, it's figured into the cost of the gas before purchase.

Paul seems to want to give people the impression that we can just do without taxes once prices get too high. So we have to ask where the money goes that would get cut off if HR 2415 gets passed. The Government Accountability Office has a report that it gave to Congress in April of 2006 that shows this graph:

What you are seeing in this graph is the end of highway projects, the end of bridge maintenance, the end of safety improvements and the end of increased transit options to reduce the pollutants that go into the atmosphere. It means more potholes, more vehicle damage and more cost to consumers. But because that cost is not being paid by the government, it's not considered important.

Our refinery capacity is certainly an issue, but the solution presented of reducing or removing the environmental regulations that prevent new refineries from being built ignores the reason that those regulations were created in the first place. Does anyone remember how much attention the lack of refineries got after Katrina? It doesn't seem to have stopped, although I'm not surprised that it is the Washington Times opinion writers like H. Sterling Burnett who disdains clean air regulations. Who wouldn't want to breathe pollution when they can save a few dollars at the pump? I mean really, don't you just love the smell of hydrocarbons in the morning? Smells like progress, doesn't it. And cancer, but let's not talk about that. Let's also not talk about the 100 or so refineries that have been shut down by the industry due to consolidations or the cost of keeping our kids healthy was just too much for their profit margin.

Lowering the price at the pump is a solution, but it's a solution to the wrong problem. Rep. Paul makes a very important assumption in his press release, that oil and gas are, and indeed should be, the only way that we can keep our cars and trucks moving, the only way that we can transport ourselves, our products or anything. Like Al Gore has said, do we really need to carry 6,000 lbs of metal with us back and forth to the store? And if so, do we really need to move it by burning ancient sunlight? The pain that we feel at the pump is our own doing, and we can do something different if we choose to.

Unfortunately, Representative Ron Paul doesn't seem to be interested. He doesn't care about air pollution, doesn't care about climate change, has no interest at all in rail transportation, and wants nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what he cares about, except the Iraq War because it's a waste of taxpayer dollars. Saving us money is nice, and it goes well with the meme that we are all on our own. However, the United States was founded on different principles. Progressive principles. Some even call them Christian principles. They can be summed up in a simple phrase: I am my brothers keeper.


ormond.otvos said...

Very good elucidation of the essential failure of caring in the Libertarian drivel. Thanks. I'll forward it.

eridani said...

That oil companies are not interested in building more refineries is not because of environmental regulations--it's because that they of all people know bloody well that we are close to Peak Oil. They have more sense than to build capacity to refine what isn't there.

Chad Lupkes said...

And they have known that the world will hit peak oil since the 1970's when the US hit peak and we started importing more than we produced ourselves. The problem is that until a majority of people understand what peak oil is and what it means in terms of energy availability, we won't get alternatives off the ground.