19 February 2007

Road Pricing.

So we now know how many people don't give a f**k about the environment.

Ok, I am over simplifying. Some of those near 1.7 million who have signed the anti-road-pricing petition have signed because they have been led to believe it will mean more taxation and no benefits when in fact it will either be revenue neutral reducing fuel duty etc or raise money for public transport and other public services that we all benefit from.

Any survey that asks if people want to pay more tax and doesn't explain what for, will not surprisingly elicit overwhelming opposition to taxation.

Equally of course, any survey that asks if people want more and better public services and doesn't mention tax rises will not surprisingly elicit overwhelming support for more public services.

A lot of these opponents of road-pricing are just die-hard opponents of a Labour government and would oppose a minimum wage if it was under a Labour government (what? there is one and they do oppose it!).

Of course there are many more people, who have been persuaded by the right wing press that 'the government' is a bad thing per-se. (The number of opponents of anything who now just say 'the government' with a smug look on their face like they have said something clever is getting ridiculous).

I will say this again and again until I am red in the face. 'The government' is a reflection of us, it may be a distorted reflection (depending on how fair our constitution, electoral system and media are) but it is still essentially a reflection. But more than this 'the government' is overwhelmingly a good thing. If we get ill, we generally have decent universal healthcare (the 18th best in the world) and even some social support, if we lose our jobs - 'the government' provides us with financial help and services, if we go to the library or museum, use public transport, use the roads, schools, in fact pretty much anything, it has been subsidised in one way or the other by 'the government'. And contrary to what people say, 'the goverment' generally have the interests of society at heart - protecting us from crime and other dangers (even Tory governments).

All this is obvious, but sometimes I think that people forget this basic fact. When somebody sneers about paying money to 'the government' they forget that anybody on the average wage of £23,000 or less gets fantastic value for money from the money that goes to 'the government' i.e taxation. There is no way that a 'free market' could provide the poorest half of the population with the level of health, social and educational services etc that they receive from 'the government' - well not for an amount that they could actually afford. The poorer you are, pretty much the higher the public spending the better and we are still one of the lowest taxed countries in Europe. Historically Gordon Brown is no more tax and spend than Margaret Thatcher at her height in 1987 (around 40% GDP) and nobody describes Thatcher as tax and spend.

When the right are not directly arguing that public services are a bad thing, they try another tack and try to persuade us that they are so wasteful that they are not any good.

Even if we accepted that public services are not as efficiently run as private services (and this is far from the case as healthcare in the US shows), the vast percentage of public expenditure goes on front line services that improve people's lives. For example according to WHO, we are 26th in expenditure on healthcare but 18th in overall healthcare outcomes. The US by contrast is 1st on expenditure but 37th on outcomes because their private system is so inefficient. Anyway, even if public service provision were undesirable, that is still not an argument against public spending because the public spending can be provided through private companies. The alternative to public spending, is unco-ordinated individuals spending money in an even more inefficient way (and to paraphrase Gandhi) - 'in a futile desire to satisfy the greed of a few doesn't satisfy the need of most'.

Anyway, I digress, so back to road pricing.

Some of the commenters on Chris Dillow's site suggest we can just put taxes on petrol. But this punishes those who drive on empty roads as much as congested ones. Under road pricing we can target the busy roads and the busy times as well as just mileage and engine efficiency.

What about the civil liberties issues? Once again we are back to people not trusting 'the government'. These same people moan about the oyster card in London (which monitors movement just as much) but I've yet to hear one example of somebody being worse off as a result. Yet these same people don't give a f**k about the thousands 'murdered' on our roads every year by motorists. Indeed they revel in it with their campaigns in support of drivers who break the speed limits. They also don't care about the poorest children who suffer the most from having main roads nearby, with the pollution damaging their respiratory systems and the dangers of being killed or seriously injured. I suppose those who can afford to live in areas away from pollution and afford not to use public transport can insulate their children from the worst effects of their actions.

So if you are persuaded by this post go and sign up to the petition IN FAVOUR of road-pricing - maybe if a million or so could sign this, we could show that a significant number of us understand the issues and care about the environment we live in.

And finally to those who think these petitions a disaster for the government, then think on - the PM now has his chance to put forward his arguments in an email directly to some of his most vociferous opponents. The right-wing press might come to regret their support for this petition site. Personally I think it is already proving a massive success for the government, anything that improves communication between the government and the public and allows the right-wing press to have their propaganda challenged cannot be a bad thing.

21 comments:

  1. And, in our late night installment, it's yet another Labour blogger who doesn't "give a f**k" about personal privacy.

    Don't vote for mass surveillance. Try this instead.

    Ian
    SELECT Privacy

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know what, google knows more about you than road pricing would tell anyone and I bet you have got a tesco club card, a bank account, a mobile phone, a credit card...etc. You are talking aout of your a*se. It is you lot who don't give a f**k. Motorists kill people every day and all they are bothered about are speed cameras. You make me sick.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Neil, so far there are no proposals to ensure that road-pricing will be revenue neutral.

    Are you supporting road-pricing merely because you are a die-hard supporter of a Labour Government!?! It sounds almost as bad as those who oppose road-pricing because they have been hoodwinked by right-wing propaganda!

    People driving on congested roads are already 'punished' for the damage caused to the environment by the amount of their time wasted in said congestion!

    I don't know anyone who revels in the many lives lost on the roads each year. Ironically, if road-pricing is successful and the average speed of urban traffic increases, will there be an increase in the numbers of pedestrian lives lost in collisions with vehicles!?!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "so far there are no proposals to ensure that road-pricing will be revenue neutral."

    I hope it isn't revenue neutral. I think anti-social behaviour should be punished. All money raised should be allocated to improving public transport, but even if it isn't it will go towards other good causes like the NHS, education etc. You talk about tax like it is wasted, when in fact it is almost certainly going to be better spent than being spent on second homes or alcohol etc.

    "Are you supporting road-pricing merely because you are a die-hard supporter of a Labour Government!?!"

    I support road pricing because it makes sense. If the Tories proposed this, I would still support it. Of course Labour has a lot of policies I support, that is why I am in the Labour party. But I also support PR, legalising drugs, a citizen's income; these policies are supported by parties other than the Labour party.

    "People driving on congested roads are already 'punished' for the damage caused to the environment by the amount of their time wasted in said congestion!"

    Well it obviously isn't enough of a punishment, which is why we need targeted financial incentives to get people off the busiest roads at the busiest times.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Neil, congestion is "enough of a punishment" as those who tolerate it are stuck in traffic whilst others not prepared to tolerate it find alternative ways of getting to work or find jobs closer to home!

    It's another example of Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' at work!!

    Do you really know how to spend my money better than I do!?!

    Why should drugs be legalised when money spent on legal drugs could be better spent on good causes like the NHS or education etc!?!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I wonder if you saw the Trevor McDonald documentary? It was well researched and showed the possible effects of such a scheme. The bloke who drives a Range Rover 35k miles a year was a net winner (£2k). The Woman who drives a small economical car 7k was a loser (£80). This was because the Rangey driver drives at off peak times on motorways. If this were true, I don't see how it would help the environment, and there's the rub. It can't be revenue neutral otherwise it won't work - if it's going to get cars off the road, it will have to cost us all more, so why be honest if that's the plan? I'd respect it a lot more. Tony Blair is about as sincere as that computer voice that "apologises" when your train's late (again).

    ReplyDelete
  7. snafu: "congestion is "enough of a punishment"

    It obviously isn't enough, otherwise people wouldn't tolerate it, they would drive at off peak or use public transport.

    "Do you really know how to spend my money better than I do!?!"

    Individuals spending cannot be as effective or as coordinated as governments, which is why we need them. Even people like you admit we need governments. The argument is whether our government - one of the most underfunded in the EU needs more funding. I think comparisons with other countries better funded public services, suggests we do.

    "Why should drugs be legalised?"

    You talk about the 'free market' but deny reality on this one.

    Either the government controls supply, price and quality of drugs or we keep the massive profits in the hands of the dubious crime barons/drug pushers who 'pyramid sell' to feed their own habits/ greed which drives up demand, deaths (through variable quality of drugs and use of guns to eliminate competition) and robberies and prostitution to feed habits.

    This is one area where a pragmatic approach will allow the government to lower demand more effectively. If we treat users as medical cases we can try to wean them off. Supplying drugs will also destroy the profit for pushers.

    There is always someone willing to fill the gap in the market while we allow it to exist (no matter how many people we lock up). We could save ourselves a lot of money and trouble by legalisation.

    anon: Any hypothetical case can be manipulated. I heard this ITV programme was sensationalising for effect. There will always be isolated cases like your example. We need to look at the overall effect.

    It will spread out traffic reducing congestion/pollution.

    Any money raised can be put into public transport.

    To reduce overall congestion the charge would have to be fine tuned. We have to ask ourselves what are the alternatives. We already have 30 million cars on the roads - we have to reduce this number and make cars less attractive and public transport more attractive, we can't all drive round oin dangerous, polluting metal boxes clogging up the limited space we have in our cities. I am not willing to live in an environment poisoned and despoiled by cars, where pedestrians and cyclists are second class citizens and effectively cannon fodder.

    ReplyDelete

  8. Either the government controls supply, price and quality of drugs or we keep the massive profits in the hands of the dubious crime barons/drug pushers


    No, there's a third option. You just legalise the drugs. The "massive profits" will now go to the (entirely legal) producers of the drugs, and the retail chain. In the case of something like E, big pharma is probably best set up to manufacture it, so will probably be able to produce it for the lowest price. Cannabis would probably keep a large number of "small independant producers" who grow their own and sell a bit, but expect the tobacco companies to produce a few extra products to sit next to the packet of 20.

    The thing that "controls" the price will be the market, the government can tax it to help pay for the social and healthcare costs associated with drug use, and I don't actually see the need for anyone to regulate the quality (brands will do that themselves) but you could wheel in the bureaucrats if you really want.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If this were true, I don't see how it would help the environment, and there's the rub.

    It's not supposed to help "the environment", it's supposed to reduce congestion. (Not having cars belching out fumes in traffic queues does help the environment as a byproduct, though).

    It's really very simple. If you want to discourage something, you make it cost more money. If you care about global warming, you want to tax (or sell emissions credits or whatever) fuel. Of course, the earth is warmed just as much by the CO2 from your gas boiler as by the CO2 from your car, so the right thing to do is to tax everything that makes CO2 equally. The market will sort out the equilibruim for you.

    Similarly, if you want to reduce congestion (without increasing the supply of roads), you have to make it cost more money to drive in congested traffic. A road pricing scheme allows you to do that, but no form of petrol tax does. Yes, reducing the amount of driving that people do with a petrol tax will reduce congestion a bit, but it won't make much difference.




    It can't be revenue neutral otherwise it won't work - if it's going to get cars off the road, it will have to cost us all more, so why be honest if that's the plan?

    ReplyDelete
  10. It can't be revenue neutral otherwise it won't work - if it's going to get cars off the road, it will have to cost us all more, so why be honest if that's the plan?

    Whoops - forgot to answer that one.

    Of course it can be revenue neutral. See, when you consider whether it's worth making a particular journey, the thing that matters is the marginal cost - how much more will it cost me to make this journey than to not make it. You then compare that to the benefit you expect to accrue from the journey, and either go or don't. (Before anyone gets tedious, "benefit" doesn't have to be money. Getting to spend a day with my brother and his children is a benefit, too.)

    You can trivially create a revenue neutral congestion charging scheme by ring-fencing the money raised, and returning it to the people at large - maybe by increasing the threshold for paying income tax for next year, or by adding a bit on to the Citizen's Basic Income if such a beast were to exist.

    Of course, if you did that, it would be rather more obvious how horribly inefficient road pricing schemes are. They do allow you to make it expensive to drive in congested areas, but only at the cost of rather large overheads.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Neil:

    You talk about tax like it is wasted, when in fact it is almost certainly going to be better spent than being spent on second homes or alcohol etc.

    The logical extension of this line of thought is that we should all pay 100% tax, and the government should decide what we need and provide it.

    Now, I think that idea has been pretty well demonstrated not to work over the last century, and I don't think you really believe it anyway.

    So you must accept that, at least for some things, you are better at spending your money than the government would be.

    Money talks, bullshit walks. If you are prepared to spend your own money on something, it's clearly something you actually want. If you just want to spend other people's money on it, it's rather less clear that you really want it that badly. The consequence? With no market, there's no way of actually measuring what people want.


    Well it obviously isn't enough of a punishment, which is why we need targeted financial incentives to get people off the busiest roads at the busiest times.


    I actually wonder if, instead of road pricing (which has very high overheads), we might not do better to offer tax breaks to employers who offer flexible working, teleworking and the like. Most people only drive in the rush hour because they need to get to their job, get the kids to school or something. When I had the opportunity, I used to routinely work from about 11am to 8pm, and encountered almost no traffic in either direction. Things like factories running shifts can't really do flexi-time, but they could be given an incentive to place shift changes outside peak periods.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anon: Thanks for all the comments. I assume they are all from one person.

    I entirely agree with legalising drugs but we should discourage use as much as possible so I think handing it over to profit making firms is risky. We need to keep a strict control on promotion and regulate availability.

    I agree that ALL CO2 emissions should be taxed.

    Road pricing is not just about CO2 though, it is about improving the quality of life and environment and reducing pollution, congestion and dangerous roads. Like you say it is easy to make it revenue neutral, whatever profits can be returned or better still ploughed into public transport.

    Completely agree with tax breaks for homeworking etc.

    On the last point. Governments are better at spending money on what is needed, individuals are better at spending money on things they enjoy (even if it is bad for them). There is obviously a balance. I wasn't advocating 100% tax.

    ReplyDelete
  13. PS I used to drive on the M6 every day between Walsall and Birmingham and believe me it doesn't matter if it is 11am or 8pm there is still congestion. It took me over an hour each way for a nine mile journey.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Neil, congestion is already enough of a problem that only those prepared to 'tolerate' it get congested in the first place!

    For everyone else, they will find alternative means to travel or go at a different time of day! They might even find work closer to home or refuse work that is too far for them to commute given current levels of congestion!

    I only mentioned legalised drugs by the way as you thought money spent on second homes or alcohol was wasted - unlike money spent on drugs - when it would be better spent if given to the Government!!

    I personally have no problems with Government spending money on behalf of society, I just have issues with the idea that the Government is always the best provider of education or healthcare!

    ReplyDelete

  15. On the last point. Governments are better at spending money on what is needed, individuals are better at spending money on things they enjoy (even if it is bad for them). There is obviously a balance. I wasn't advocating 100% tax.


    Well, I "need" food, housing, clothing, laundry facilities and all of modern life's other essentials.
    Are you suggesting that the government would be better than me at providing those things for me? Should the government decide whether I should turn the heat up a couple of degrees or put on another jumper?

    Of course, I enjoy them, too - I like eating food, I like having a warm dry house to live in, clean clothes to wear and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  16. anon: When food was determined (rationed) by the government during the war, pretty much everyone's dietary intake improved. Of course it wasn't much fun (although ironically, the community 'backs against the wall' spirit that unified us in wartime actually made people happier - we are social animals - no amount of GDP will alter that) , and I am not advocating that the government should take much of a role in what products we choose, but they certainly are essential in providing universal healthcare, education, transport etc - things that rely more on organisation at the community level - which is where road pricing comes in.

    snafu: There is plenty of risky behaviour that is inadvisable - govts have a duty to discourage this behaviour- whether it is heroin, alcohol or driving motor vehicles at high speed. But they also have to realise when banning something completely is doing more harm than good. With drugs - prohibition is making the problem worse.

    snafu - So how many vehicles is too many? The current 30m or predicted 40m, 50m?

    I suppose you want to cover the country in more roads and carparks, clog our city centres even more, build more out of town shopping malls and isolated surburban sprawls, encouraging car use even more and disadvantaging cycling, walking and those (the elderly, disabled (60% of disabled households have no car) and the poor that cannot have cars) who are already painfully disadvantaged by surburban sprawl isolating them on estates and increasing car use which makes frequent public transport difficult and increases the deaths and illness of children in congested areas. Plus it is not good for car-users themselves who will be stuck in their cars even more.

    83% of journey miles are by car. It was 67% in 1970.

    The real cost of motoring (incl. purchase,maintenance, insurance, fuel etc.) has been static since 1974, whereas public transport costs have increased by 50% in the same period. At the same time disposable income has risen 80% making cars that much cheaper. There were only 11m in 1970. We cannot go on like this. Most journeys are less than 5 miles, we should not be clogging the roads with cars.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Gordon Brown couldn't do "revenue Neutral" if his life depended on it (if only). Face it, you just want to tax someone who isn't you... right?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love rich Tories who hide their money in all sort of schemes to avoid tax and campaign relentlessly to reduce taxes on the rich (inheritance tax, top rate reductions under Thatcher), lecturing the poor (who pay a bigger percentage of their earnings in tax than anyone else) about the morals of paying tax. I think it is you who wants 'to tax someone who isn't you'.

    ReplyDelete
  19. "I love rich Tories who hide their money in all sort of schemes to avoid tax".

    I love rich Labour supporters who hide their money in all sorts of schemes to avoid tax even more.

    Even the Labour Party managed to avoid £210,000 in stamp duty recently when it sold it's former HQ at 16 Old Queen St!

    Maybe we should ban smoking as 'the poor' (when they are working!) only pay a bigger percentage of their earnings in tax than others as they smoke more (and drink more alcohol?) than other social groups!

    ReplyDelete
  20. lecturing the poor (who pay a bigger percentage of their earnings in tax than anyone else) about the morals of paying tax.

    One of the biggest screwups in the current tax system is the fact that the marginal rate of tax for someone with a family on a low income is almost 100% (when you consider withdrawl of benefits). Unless someone in this situation can more than double his wage, there's no point at all in him working harder or longer, as he's only going to get an extra 50p a week.

    The message that sends to those people is "don't bother - you're a prole and will remain a prole - there's nothing you can do about it."

    That's worse than stupid - it's evil.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Actually I think taxes should be cut from the bottom. The marginal rate of taxes that the low-paid endure disgusts me and it's got much, much worse under Brown.

    I've no objection to paying my fair share and to charicterise me as a "Rich Tory" is just Lazy

    ReplyDelete