My latest at IER. For you folks, here’s the part I want to highlight:
First, let’s use a trick from the minimum wage debate, which I’m sure Krauthammer and other Fox contributors will appreciate. When a progressive says how great boosting the minimum wage to (say) $10/hour would be, the easiest way to show the weakness in the argument is to ask, “Okay, then why not boost the minimum wage to $100 per hour?!” It’s not that this is the end of the story, period, but the rhetorical question shows that the typical progressive hasn’t even considered the downsides of the proposal, and thus is caught flat-footed when challenged in this way.
We can use the same rhetorical device against Krauthammer. In his article, he doesn’t list a single downside of raising the gas tax. It is safe to assume that he pulled that $1 per gallon figure out of thin air—it’s not the result of a careful weighing of pros and cons. So the wise reader can go back and plug a $10 per gallon tax on gasoline into Krauthammer’s piece, and see if it still makes sense.
Here’s a hint: It won’t.
Now there was some pushback last year from the free-market camp, along the lines of, “Hey guys, we really need to stop doing the extreme ‘why not make it $100 an hour?!’ argument in the minimum wage debate.”
I strongly disagree. If someone makes an argument for X, but that same argument would prove 10X is much better, then it must be a bad argument if in fact we can all agree 10X would be terrible. We haven’t of course proven that X is bad, but we’ve definitely established that the original argument for X is bad.
Robert Nozick apparently was converted away from typical interventionist notions with just such an argument. (I say “apparently” because I’ve heard people repeat this; I never read him saying this in his own words, I don’t think.) When critics said, “If you support a modest hike in the minimum wage, why not a massive one?” the people Nozick used to regard as heroes didn’t have a good response. That’s when he realized he should stop taking cues from them on economic policy, and began reading others.
So anyway, it’s the same thing with Krauthammer’s call for a $1 per gallon hike in the gas tax. He didn’t arrive at that figure as the optimal stopping point; he just picked it out of the air, and then listed some benefits from it, without any discussion of the costs (let alone demonstrating that the benefits outweighed the costs). That is a terrible argument for an economic policy.