May 15th, 2008 by Rightsideup

CNN’s Jack Cafferty has a column looking at the option of lowering speed limits to bring down the price of gas. Here’s an excerpt:

Cars are most fuel efficient when driven between 30 mph and 60 mph. Above 65 mph, mileage drops sharply. This isn’t rocket science. If drivers are forced to slow down, we would all use less gasoline. And if demand went down, prices might just follow.

One expert says reducing highway speeds from 70 mph to 60 mph would reduce gasoline consumption between 2% and 3%. That could translate into a price reduction of as much as 10%. At today’s price, almost 38 cents a gallon.

This is exactly what happened in 1974 during the Middle East oil embargo. President Nixon and Congress imposed a national speed limit of 55 mph. Congress repealed the national speed limit law in 1995, and today there are 32 states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher. In Texas, you can even drive 80 mph on some roads.

Marvelous. Now we’re looking to the Carter era for solutions to our problems. Apparently the last 30 years were a big waste of time and there were no valuable lessons about government intervention in the economy worth remembering. So instead we’re taking our lessons from that fabulously successful Carter era of economic growth and prosperity.

If people want to use less gas, then they’re presumably quite welcome to reduce their speed on highways to 60mph or lower. But re-introducing a federal speed limit, with no constitutional justification whatsoever, just in order to meddle in the oil market, is several steps too far. There are much bigger and more effective ways to impact the oil market, not least permitting more drilling and refining of oil domestically. Why is it that certain people’s instincts always go to increasing government limitations on freedom of behavior when it comes to solving problems? And how come our collective memories of the past results of such policies are so short?