The Agenda

Market-Friendly VMTs

Recently, Ben Domenech of The Federalist argued that Robert Sarvis, the this year’s Libertarian gubernatorial nominee in Virginia, is a “libertarian-in-name-only” in part because he’s open to the idea of mileage-based user fees as a substitute for motor fuel taxes:

That last position is particularly nonsensical to me: a VMT, which generally requires a government GPS to be installed in your car to track your miles driven, is about the most anti-libertarian transportation tax you can think of – even those radical libertarians at Brookings think it’s a bad idea, and it was one of the potential bad ideas in McDonnell’s transportation plan that got killed over it:  “The biggest concern may be privacy. Eighty-six percent of area commuters would oppose having a GPS device installed in their car to track their miles, according to a study by the Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board released last week.” Big government technocrats may like such steps, but I cannot think of a single coherent libertarian case for such an invasion of individual privacy.

But as Diana Furchtgott-Roth of Economics 21 explains, mileage-based user fees don’t actually require “a government GPS to be installed in your car.” Many fear that the use of GPS-enabled devices to gauge mileage represents a threat to privacy, mileage-based fees can rely on odometers — and of course state governments can give drivers the choice of paying a flat monthly fee in lieu of a mileage-based fee. The Oregon Department of Transportation has done just that in its VMT pilot program. And mileage-based user fees not be administered by the government at all. Rather, governments could outsource the work to independent billing organizations, and these organizations could be legally obligated not to collect location data. There is also an affirmative reason for libertarians might embrace VMTs. Whereas the connection between motor fuel taxes and road usage is increasingly tenuous as drivers shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, mileage-based user fees can be tailored in such a way that they reflect the extent to which a given driver causes wear-and-tear on infrastructure. As a general rule, user pays pricing is an idea libertarians and market-oriented conservatives have long embraced.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Most Popular

Elections

Late Campaign Stops Don’t Seem to Do Much

Growing up in New Jersey, we called nights like tonight – where there were expectations for hooliganism -- vandalism, breaking windows, and perhaps even arson, “Mischief Night.” In Detroit, they called it “Devil’s Night.” In 2020, Americans just call it “Friday.” On the menu today: wondering ... Read More
Elections

Late Campaign Stops Don’t Seem to Do Much

Growing up in New Jersey, we called nights like tonight – where there were expectations for hooliganism -- vandalism, breaking windows, and perhaps even arson, “Mischief Night.” In Detroit, they called it “Devil’s Night.” In 2020, Americans just call it “Friday.” On the menu today: wondering ... Read More

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More