In France, they tried the idea of raising taxes on fossil fuels to discourage consumption.
Here’s the basic thought: If gasoline costs more, people will buy less of it. The proposed carbon fuels tax was complex but came down to an additional 40 cents per gallon.
Such plans seem reasonable in theory. But economist Greg Mankiw, of Harvard University, was quoted as saying, “Higher taxes on fuel have always been a policy more popular among economists than voters.”
The French responded by rioting. During the course of four weekends, riots have left four dead and an estimated 600 injured. The New York Times reported the French deployed an additional 89,000 police nationally and had a dozen armored vehicles patrol the capital.
The French government postponed the taxes for at least six months. The protestors did not back away. Their demands spread to the idea of opposing high taxes in general.
Gasoline in Europe already is expensive by American standards. In France, the going price is about $6.50 per gallon. In this country, the state of Washington considered a carbon fuels tax referendum that would have raised gas taxes about 25 cents per gallon. It was defeated, soundly, getting only 42 percent of the vote.
Is there a message here? Well, two.
The first is while people generally see the need for helping the environment, hitting them in the pocketbook might not be the answer.
The second is growing the economy remains a key issue. One demonstrator put it this way: You cannot worry too much about the end of the world if you don’t have enough money at the end of the month.