Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Driving without drinking

So, sometimes, The New York Times actually posts something a little dead-on, like this letter from January 1st, 2008:
To the Editor:

In “Let’s Raise a Glass to Fairness” (Economic Scene, Dec. 26), David Leonhardt suggests that the argument for raising the federal tax on wine, unchanged at $1.07 a gallon since the early 1990s, is stronger than the argument for raising the tobacco tax. He points out all the ills associated with drinking abuse, including the some 17,000 Americans who die annually in alcohol-related traffic accidents.

It would seem that a far more appropriate tax to increase would be the federal gas tax, unchanged since 1993, at 18.4 cents a gallon.

Raising that tax would reflect all of the more than 42,000 traffic-related deaths each year, whether the result of drinking, fatigue, negligence or other causes. Irvin Dawid

Palo Alto, Calif., Dec. 26, 2007
In all fairness, Leonhardt makes something of a fair point. Alcohol probably does have a lot of social consequences. But those consequences, and their costs, are probably best dealt with locally, rather than through crushing federal taxes that go to nothing in particular. The same goes for other vices, like addiction to sugary meals such Captain Crunch.

Driving, on the other hand, wreaks global havoc. It is also expensive, and communities pay many confiscatory taxes to support its costs.

Want to reduce some of those costs? Make the drinking age 16 and the driving age 21.

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