Monday, August 28, 2006

Cost of Driving, Part II

According to Atrios: "it's important to acknowledge that automobile ownership overall is [] tremendously costly, and development which allows families to reduce the number of cars per household should be a goal." I have to respectfully disagree with the good professor on that last point; I see very little societal benefit to reducing the number of cars per household. In fact we would probably do better to increase it. It is the amount that people drive, not the number of cars they own, that we should be trying to reduce.

In my previous post on this topic, I described how per-mile insurance would raise the cost of driving but lower the cost of owning a car (with a net reduction in overall cost). This should reduce overall driving, but it would also likely increase vehicle ownership. Some people who cannot afford a car under the current insurance system, would be able to afford one if they paid for insurance only when they drive--when they take their children to the doctor, go to a job interview, get out of the path of a hurricane.... Some years ago, a young man bought an old car from me for $100. I thought I was doing him a favor, but he quickly discovered that he could not afford the taxes and insurance, and I believe he had to get rid of it.

Other people who already own a vehicle should buy a second one. In my own family, we have both a mini-van and an economy car. I drive the economy car most days, but it is totally inadequate for the whole family. If, as Atrios suggests, we should get rid of one of them, it's the economy car that would have to go. And I know plenty of people who's only vehicle(s) are vans and suv's--and plenty of couples who have two! Some of these people are finding their guzzlers very expensive these days, but they are not about to junk them. We should be encouraging those people to buy economy cars, and put their guzzlers in the garage--for special occasions. And we should structure our tax and insurance systems to make it more, not less, economical for them to do so.

And that leads me to my second suggestion: eliminate all vehicle taxes. Eliminate ad-valorem taxes on vehicles, eliminate all tag and registration fees, eliminate sales taxes on vehicles--as well as on parts and repairs. Raise gas taxes enough to make it revenue neutral. One nice advantage of this, in Virginia at least, is that our total taxes would go down; about 12% of our gas tax revenue comes from out-of-state motorists. I would even have gas taxes pay for the mandatory emissions and safety inspections we get every year--and feel not the slightest twinge of guilt at making out-of-state motorists pay 12% of that cost. It's small enough return for the pollution and congestion they give us.

As with per-mile insurance, this simple change in cost structure would make it less expensive to own vehicles--and more expensive to drive them. And both of those changes would be good things.
Permalink 12:50 AM

Saturday, August 19, 2006


I watch the McLaughlin Group most weeks. Don't ask me why--habit, I guess. This week they were discussing the benefits of racial/ethnic/religious profiling in preventing terrorist attacks. Lawrence ODonnel offered that: "[since] 100% of the terrorists have been Muslims...." He repeated that at least twice, "100%". The other pannelists nodded their heads and echoed the claim.

That's odd. Was Eric Rudolph a Muslim? Timmothy McVey? The Unibomber? Is Aum Shinrikyo an Islamic cult? I didn't think so.
Permalink 1:25 PM

Cost Of Driving, Part I

Daryl brought this article on per-mile car insurance to my attention (with thanks to 3 Quarks Daily). It's something I have written about before (pre-blog). Dean Baker thinks we could cut gasoline consumption 10% just by switching to mileage-based car insurance. I think he is understating the case, as well as missing some major ancillary benefits.

If you're a typical driver, you pay about 10 cents per-mile in car insurance, which is comparable to what you pay for gasoline. (If you are driving a guzzler, you probably pay a bit more for both.) But unlike fuel expenses, you do not save anything on insurance when you drive less. Having your spouse pick up some groceries on the way home, instead of driving 10 miles round-trip, will save you a dollar in gas, but it won't save you a dime in insurance. If we switched to per-mile insurance, then you would save a dollar on gas and another dollar on insurance. Put another way, per-mile insurance would have about the same effect on average driving habits as an additional $3/gal. gas tax.

Six dollars per gallon wouldn't be enough to get you to cut down on driving? How about $18? While the average driver pays 10 cents per mile for auto insurance, bad drivers pay 50 cents or more--about $500 per month--or the equivalent of a $15/gal gas tax. That's based on a conversation I had with some insurers a few years ago (coincidentally while van-pooling with them); I assume it's even more today. In our car-crazy country, even bad drivers, with multiple tickets and accidents on their records, still need to drive. So they bite the bullet, pay their $500/month, and drive as much as they ever did. If per-mile insurance would get an average driver to cut down 10%, it should get the klutzes and idiots to cut down 20% or more.

And it's not just the klutzes and idiots; it's the teenagers! Or is that redundant? (Sorry, Sheen.) My insurance was actually averaging much less than $.10/mile, until recently. Then my daughter got her license. For some crazy reason, the insurance company assumes that now that she's discovered the joy of combustion, she's going to be driving--a lot. So they averaged her anticipated driving in with my known driving, and boy did my rates go up! But if we were paying by the mile, then her car would be metered separately. And she would not drive as much, because she could not afford to.

Getting the most dangerous drivers to drive less reduces the risk and the insurance cost for everyone. So not only would you most likely be driving less, you would be paying less for the miles you do drive--in addition to being safer, breathing cleaner air and facing less traffic. Oh, and one more thing: you'd be paying less for gas. It's estimated that if America cut its consumption by just 3%, the price of gas would drop $1/gal. Need a platform, anyone?
Permalink 12:05 PM

Bush: Terrorists are like puppies

"If we leave before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home," he said.
Aw! Can we keep him?
Permalink 9:57 AM

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bigotry and Irrationality, Part 1

The hostilities between Israelis and their Arab neighbors have ignited into what looks like all-out war in Lebanon. (It's a funny kind of war, because although Israel is attacking Lebanese territory and Lebanese civilians are getting killed, Israel isn't actually at war with Lebanon, but with Hezbollah). In Iraq, Sunni/Shiite violence has claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Ethnic, racial, or religious conflicts have plagued Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, East Timor, Sri Lanka, India...the list is absolutely staggering.

I don't know if I have anything to say about this insanity, except to say that all the evidence seems to suggest that this is the normal course of things, like the law of entropy. I'm not saying that we should give up; on the contrary, I'm saying that we must constantly be on guard against descending into barbarity. I have lots of incoherent thoughts on this subject, and I'm going to try to get rough drafts down as blog entries. These are along the lines of "thinking out loud" rather than polished essays.

First, even though the situation of ethnic hatred and violence is insane, the actions of individuals leading to the situation are really not so irrational. You have two groups, the star-bellied sneetches and the plain-bellied sneetches, for example. There is really no rational reason for the one kind of sneetch to hate the other kind of sneetch. However, it doesn't take much for some sneetches to come to the conclusion that the other sneetches are bigoted. The last three rulers have all been star-bellied sneetches. That can't be just a coincidence, can it? Once the suspicion arises that the star-bellied sneetches are getting more than their fair share, the plain-bellied sneetches start grumbling and being resentful. Then the star-bellied sneetches can rationally justify discriminating against plain-bellied sneetches: they are more likely to be resentful grumblers. I don't want any kind of tension, so I should probably stick to star-bellied sneetches. So discrimination grows and grumbling grows, and eventually grumbing turns into violence. Then the star-bellied sneetches learn not to go in plain-bellied neighborhoods, and the two groups become more and more polarized.

The basis for discriminating is almost completely irrelevant, except that to really get a good ethnic conflict going, the differences have to be roughly hereditary. Religious and language preferences aren't actually hereditary, but they might as well be---children strongly tend to make the same choices as their parents (especially if the people who chose differently live in different neighborhoods).

So acting on irrational bigotry is not necessarily irrational. It's a fact that people of one racial or ethnic group cannot safely walk in some neighborhoods dominated by another group. So being scared of the other group is rational, in many cases. As Yoda can tell you:
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Permalink 12:06 AM

Hooray for Kansas

Kansas votes the creationists off the state school board.
Permalink 12:04 AM