But if our goal is to get Americans to drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, and to reduce air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases, gas prices need to be even higher. The current federal gasoline tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, has been essentially stable since 1993; in inflation-adjusted terms, it’s fallen by 40 percent since then.

Politicians of both parties understandably fear that raising the gas tax would enrage voters. It certainly wouldn’t make lives easier for struggling families. But the gasoline tax is a tool of energy and transportation policy, not social policy, like the minimum wage…

Other industrialized democracies have accepted much higher gas taxes as a price for roads and bridges and now depend on the revenue. In fact, Germany’s gas tax is 18 times higher than the United States’ (and seven times more if the average state gas tax is included). The federal gasoline tax contributed about $25 billion in revenues in 2009.