First make sure govt. does no (environmental) harm
Leonard Reed, Ben Rogge, and Ed Opitz of the Foundation for Economic Education had much experience with energetic libertarians who attended FEE seminars. Libertarians were often frustrated that those around them seemed unable to grasp free-market ideas. Libertarians wanted to promote liberty in the worst way, the joke goes, and that is exactly what they did.
Reed, Rogge, and Opitz argued that the best libertarians could do is to present society with one improved person (themselves). People should focus on improving their own understanding and they could expect in time that others would turn to them for advice and opinions. Of course for many this was bitter medicine. It is so much easier to blame others for being thick-headed. I remember reading Hawthorne’s short story “The Great Stone Face” and that has always inspired me.
As for gas taxes, I was impressed with John Tierney’s NYT column suggesting a revenue-neutral gas tax that would kick in as prices fell (say one penny for every two penny drop). Such a tax could be called an emission tax, energy-securty tax, or misguided overseas intervention tax, or whatever. I think Tierney also proposed current gas taxes be reduced as gas prices went “too high.” I don’t remember the details. At least for those roads that can’t easily be privatized, or fitted with congestion-pricing tolls, gas fees should cover all expenses. General taxpayers should no more be taxes for roads than they should for ports, trains, or airports.
I am working on a study recommending that California, instead of elaborate subsidies for alternative energy and coersive mandates for emissions reductions (forcing firms to retire 10% of their off-road vehicles each year)… that instead of these interventions, California should consider removing current penalties for those who wish to purchase and use new, more efficient, and lower-emission vehicles.
Anyone in California wishing to purchase a new technology car, truck, or off-road vehicle must pay the state of California an 8.5% or so penalty (a sales tax). Why not just remove this tax for those purchasing newer, cleaner, safer, less-polluting technology? Or one could propose a more complicated system where emissions-reduction credits counted against sales taxes.
And contractors (as well as car buyers) would sell their used vehicles to downstream users who would sell or retire their even older, more polluting, vehicles. The net benefit from deploying new lower-emission engines is huge, but California penalizes such purchases.
My proposal is that governments first reduce the harms caused by current policies, before rushing forward with new interventions.