Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A culture of cars

There's a debate going on among some of my favorite liberal bloggers about the merits of gas taxes versus those of CAFE standards. Various dubious points have been made on both sides of the argument, but the one I'll pick on is Ezra Klein's argument (also made by Kevin Drum) that driving is unavoidable in a country like the US, where people live many miles from where they work and where they shop.

Yes, America has a "car culture" and Europe does not. Yes, your typical American cannot drastically cut his gas consumption easily in the short term, because he absolutely *must* drive to get to work, school, the local Walmart, etc. while the typical European can take the subway. But that's at least partly because high gas taxes in Europe have encouraged people to live in compact urban areas, while subsidized gas in the US has encouraged people to spread out. The suburbs are the product of cheap gas: get rid of the cheap gas, and in the long term you'd make living in the suburbs less attractive. CAFE makes this effect even worse--when high-efficiency cars are subsidized, it becomes even cheaper to live far away from work. If you subsidize efficient cars, become even more dependent on those cars, and will drive even more miles.

In the long term, CAFE won't get rid of our oil dependence. Only high prices will.