Between the Lines: AutoWeek on Norway's Car Taxes

Our little corner of the infosphere is not immune from political considerations. We re often ground zero for petro-political debates about the connection between American foreign policy and the way the needle in your big-ass SUV's gas gauge swings to E like a Big Band bee-bopper. We re also the subject of discussions about the negative effect of the exhaust gasses blasting out of the conjoined pipes of your Cayman S on California s Mighty Redwoods. Zzzzzzz.

Yes, it s true: Most pistonheads are preoccupied by far more prosaic matters than the political bias of the American media. As far as I can tell, there s no left / right journalistic divide on whether or not GM should just shut the Hell up and go ahead and build the new Camaro before we completely lose interest in retro-designed cars; or if the Honda S2000 s slick shifting six-speed is the world s greatest gearbox in the history of the world ever because a bunch of people on the s2ki forum say it most definitely beyond-a-shadow-of-a-friggin -doubt is.

No wonder, then, that AutoWeek scribe Matt Davis wants to play a strange sport with readers of his Wheel Play column. Anyone fancy a quick game of let s see if I can convince you to pay more taxes on your car to rid America of its oil addiction and sweeten the air ? I don t know about you, but this sounds like fun!

Norway and Iceland are the only two deliberate holdouts in the "United States of Europe" vision for the European Union.
Well, there s a bit of news for the tens of millions of Eurosceptics spread throughout the European Continent, Eastern Europe and the British Isles. For some rhetorically inconvenient reason, the vast majority of people both within and without the European Union see the organization as an antidemocratic governmental agency that poses a Nazi-style threat to personal liberty, income levels and, oh yeah, the ability to cheer their country s national football team to fuckin annihilate their neighboring countries football team.

Is Mr. Davis unaware that an entire nation of French and Dutch voters delayed their habitual after-work drinking session so they could go and tell those scheming rat bastard Bruxellois bureaucrats to fuck off and die? Doesn t he know that the Swiss — the human equivalent of a System X supercomputer — rejected membership in the European Economic Area? I mean, it wasn t even the full Union. Just an area.

Doesn t Mr. Davis know that Denmark and Sweden rejected the Euro; two nations whose language makes the word uuuuurrrow sound so sexy you feel an almost testicular urge to learn their impenetrable mother tongue (so to speak)? Doesn t Mr. Davis know that less than three in ten Brits who could be bothered to answer a prying pollster s numbly worded, rain-soaked questions support the idea of European political and economic integration? That they believe, with no small amount of plausibility, that the whole Euro thing is little more than Germany s third attempt to take over the world?

Doesn t Mr. Davis know about the Euroscepticism in former communist countries like the Czech Republic, whose inhabitants are inherently war-like and three kinds of crazy? Why didn t Davis type european integration into the search bar at www.wikipedia.org, click on Euroscepticism, scroll down to the section marked Euroscepticism in Central and Eastern Europe and read that Czech President Vaclav Klaus said The enemies of free societies today are those who want to burden us down again with layer upon layer of regulations. We had that in communist times. But now if you look at all the new rules and regulations of EU membership, layered bureaucracy is staging a comeback ?

Both northern republics, with their extremely healthy economies (Iceland fish; Norwegian fish, oil, natural gas, lumber and high-tech), are hesitant to throw it all in with the southerners. The Norwegians in particular continue to live in a socialist system that mostly works brilliantly. Norway would undergo radical EU changes were its citizens to vote in favor of joining. Issue No. 1 in any socialist setup is taxation. To my point: taxes on new cars.
While I appreciate the Jeopardy lesson on the Norwegian economy, what the Hell is a socialist system that mostly works brilliantly? (I d like to hear about the times it doesn t work so brilliantly.) And aren t those radical changes the Norwegians fear crippling European Union taxes and stupid, stifling regulation? Even without analyzing the sum of human happiness amongst Norway s 4.6 million lucky inhabitants, Norway is not a socialist state. It s a political democracy practicing social capitalism (as opposed, presumably, to America s anti-social capitalism ).

Bottom line: the average Norwegian knows his tax money pays for more than enough government pencil pushers without adding a couple of thousand more working out of Belgium.

That said, the Norwegian government is at least socialist enough to control all of the nation s oil production. And wouldn t you know, Norway is the world s third largest oil-producing nation, second only to our good friends the Saudis and our equally reliable friends the Russians. Last year, Norway sold $38.4b s worth of Texas Tea. With a 78% tax on oil company profits, the government s coffers are stoked enough to put a fiskerfarse in every pot and pay for sensitivity courses for all men aged eight and up. Of course, none of the money flowing through its oil spigots stops Norway from taxing the shit out of its people; you know, being a social capitalist system and all. Which is Davis point, I think.

In Norway, after the importer has its way with setting the price [of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S], and after tacking on the 24 percent sales tax, then adding the engine dimension surtax and finally the horsepower surtax, my Norwegian friend says the price will come to roughly E250,000, or $297,000.

Only Denmark rivals Norway for this insanity that, in the end, is geared to keeping motorized traffic and pollution to a minimum while collecting huge luxury taxes. On the other hand, the environment in these extreme societies is crystal clean and the roads are perfect.

Don t you love it when a writer tries to play it both ways at the same time? Doesn t it make you happy you learned how to read at an early age? Let s set em up and parse him down

On one hand, Davis wants to create taxation shadenfreude. It is, after all, a terrific way to convince you that you just THINK you re paying high taxes on your motoring pleasure. In that sense, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is an inspired choice for an example of Norway s House of Horror automotive taxation: It s a hugely expensive, over-engined, geographically appropriate capitalistpigmobile that still seems way cool to AutoWeek s pistonhead audience. (Dude! Imagine driving that thing over some totally rad ice fields!)

In truth, Norway is a country of fuel-efficient Volkswagens and Peugeots. A glimpse at the tax bill for one of these more representative daily drivers would have provided a far better understanding of Norway s automotive tax burden. But hey, who needs genuine illumination when you re talking politics?

On the other hand, Davis lives in Italy, a left-leaning political clusterfuck if ever there was one. So he can t be quite sure how politically tolerant his bosses at AutoWeek are gonna be. So Davis probably figures it s best to play it safe and label Norway s Turbo-Porker taxes insane. This places him safely in the capitalist camp — where he s about as comfortable as a PETA activist sitting at the head table during Wild Game Night at The University Club. So the columnist quickly touts the benefits of this insanity.

With America s highways going to Hell in direct proportion to tax-cutting politicians seeking to hold office, I wonder if high taxes are that bad. Granted my own Italy is a monument to dysfunction regardless of the tax issue, but the more those seeking office here play the tax-cut game, the longer notorious stretches of highway construction will remain unfinished.
Again, and for real this time, I wonder if Davis is insane. Are high taxes bad? Couldn t be! I know! Let s ask the Norwegians! Well, first they ve got that mind-boggling 24% sales tax to pay. Then these citizens of the world s third largest oil producing nation must fork out $6.60 for a gallon of gas — two-thirds of which is tax. And then there s the rest: all the usual yearly taxes and fees and other weird stuff (they even have a big-cars-do-more-damage-to-the-road tax). No wonder Norway has one of the lowest car ownership rates in Europe. Take THAT Saudi Arabia!

I know: low car use is a good thing for people who cherish a crystal clean environment and perfect roads (even if they can t afford to drive on them). As for the negative effect of tax-cutting US politicians (who? where?) on the state of American highways, the connection exists purely in Mr. Davis imagination.

The US federal excise fuel tax is currently 18.4 cents per gallon of gas, 24.4 cents for diesel. Three-quarters of the $40b generated goes directly to transportation. What s more (much more), the 2005 Highway Act adds another $244.6b of your hard-earned money to the exact same end. Sure, the bill contains lots of pointless pork — a gold-fenced pig farm full — but you gotta think there s plenty of money left over for a little tarmac here and there.

Mr. Davis writing betrays the fact that he firmly believes government can — and should — solve all of world s problems by throwing money — yours — at them. The more money government spends, the faster the problems disappear. Presto! If the strategy fails, it s because there wasn t enough money (again, yours). Ironically, Davis rant includes a tacit admission that government fraud, waste and corruption pretty much kills this taxes are good for you and me and everyone on the planet theory.

Davis finishes his paean to the joys of taxing the Hell out of US motorists by citing the eternal road construction afflicting Autostrada A3. He concludes with The Big Question:

Would ratcheting up the tax burden on passenger vehicles, Norsk style, automatically improve the air and roads? It may be too late for Italy.
But not for lucky old us! Hey Davis: in your dreams buddy. In your dreams.

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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