Gas Tax Redux

Last week I posed a simple challenge: Try to find any coherent economist willing to support the gas tax holiday proposed by candidates McCain and Clinton.

The challenge remains unanswered, but here’s some interesting commentary collected during the week:

1. George Stephanopoulos posed my challenge directly to Senator Clinton (video here), asking: “Can you name one economist — a credible economist — who supports the suspension?”

After Clinton side-stepped the question, he pushed on: “But can you name an economist who thinks this makes sense.” Clinton’s response: “Well I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.” (HT: Mark Thoma)

2. Sam Stein took my challenge fairly directly, playing the economics version of “Where’s gas-tax-supporting Waldo now?”

He tried Clinton’s spokesperson, libertarians, conservatives, progressives, ex-Clinton staffers, even the transportation workers union or the American Trucking Association, but still couldn’t find any support for the gas tax holiday.

3. Greg Mankiw received a note from Len Burman:

Yesterday I was on the NewsHour to talk about the gas tax holiday. I asked if there was another guest and the producer said, “We tried, but couldn’t find anyone to argue the other side (that the gas tax holiday made sense).”

4. By contrast, Henry Aaron from Brookings, managed to very quickly whip up a list of 150 economists opposed to the gas tax holiday. And there are some pretty impressive folks on the list, from across the political spectrum.

This makes me proud to be an economist. In any election silly season, you can usually find someone willing to support just about any kind of nonsense. And reality T.V. teaches us that people are often willing to do or say nearly anything to get their faces on T.V.

But it appears that the economics profession just isn’t that silly.

My $0.02: This issue isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. But hopefully sufficient negative reaction to silly ideas this early in the election season will deter future silly ideas when the election heats up.

Finally, for those interested in economic research on the effects of a gas tax moratorium on gas prices, let me suggest a recent paper by Joe Doyle and Krislert Samphantharak (available here). There are reasons to think that the previous state-level gas tax reductions they study may not provide perfect guidance to the current proposal, but it is a start.

[Freakonomics trivia: Steve Levitt was Joe's dissertation advisor.]

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  1. rob says:

    I’m offended that McCain and Clinton think that people are so stupid that their votes will be swayed by saving a few cents everyday. I’m glad that there’s so much coverage of the fact this tax suspension, if anything, will have a negative impact on the economy.

    This election is making me more and more depressed everytime I hear about it.

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  2. DJH says:

    From the article: “Clinton’s response: ‘Well I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.’”

    Oy vey! How popular will this make her, among readers of this blog? :)

    I suspect the people most likely to look for academic support for the gas-tax suspension would be the trucking industry, not the politicians who’ve been grilled on it. If the industry hasn’t come up with anyone … that about takes care of it, no?

    Oh, and I guess this puts to the lie the oft-stated canard that if you look hard enough, you can find an economist somewhere who will say just about anything (based on the assumption that economics is so “iffy” that it can be spun any way one wants).

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  3. Clint says:

    I know that you’re not intending to influence this sentiment, but I’m less and less compelled to vote. Aside from my vote being less than a fraction of a drop in the bucket, I’d be casting my vote for a candidate with no concept of economics.

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  4. an economist's nephew. says:

    Hillary supports the tax holiday and said, “I’m not gonna put my lot in with economists.”

    While this speaks volumes about her ignorance on basic supply/demand principles, it says more about her unwillingness to admit a mistake and willingness to pander to a perceived base. Sounds like she wants to be The Decider II.

    Maybe there should be a pants suit tax.

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  5. TSW says:

    My job is doing PR work for the recreation vehicle. Logically, I keep track of trucking interests since their issues and ours intersect on occassion. Last week I received an email from a trucking industry association — saying that the gas tax holiday is a bad idea.

    And they’re right — it IS a bad idea. Hillary is embarrassing herself trying to argue for it. Just admit it’s a bad idea and move on.

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  6. Tre Jones says:

    Bryan Caplan has attempted to do so on his blog, EconLog: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/05/ill_shill_for_h.html.

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  7. Matt, Ohio says:

    Hillary knows that the gas tax suspension is a stupid idea, just as same as she knows that giving a victory speech in a state where she was the only one on the ballot is stupid. It’s nothing more than political posturing and spin.

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  8. gwu econ says:

    LEVITT & DUBNER ’08 !!!!

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