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. MRB says:

    Given the flack that Obama has (is) taking for Jeremiah Wright,

    can Obama please hammer Hillary’s head in with the hammer of the ‘tax holiday’?

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  2. Chris U says:

    I’d like to find all the occasions when H Clinton has pointed to an economist’s opinion as a support of one of her polices. I bet there are more than a few.
    She uses a Paul Krugman quote in support of her health care plan (and clearly calls him an economist).

    On this press release she quotes Jonathan Gruber, a “health economist”

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  3. Kevin C says:

    you can be offended all you want, but, unfortunately, the assumption “that people are so stupid that their votes will be swayed by saving a few cents everyday” is probably an accurate one.

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  4. Jim says:

    Any science is defined by what it ignores. Economics is no different, and it’s ignoring a lot in this case.

    The gas tax holiday is a sign that the government is doing something to help people and the economy. If people think something is being done they’ll be more optimistic, which will actually help the economy.

    Think of it as an economic placebo. Placebos work, and they work better the more expensive they are.

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  5. Mayor Quimby says:

    As I understand it, Clinton is courting the undecided conservatives and she and McCain feel those voters have a sentimental soft spot for any and all tax reductions and a resistance to economic contexts.

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  6. Matoli says:

    For my second H. L. Mencken quote here this morning: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.”

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  7. Helen says:

    @4 –

    As a former student of Latin American politics, I’m actually quite relieved to hear that Hillary says she isn’t going to throw her lot in with the economists. The gas tax holiday plans put out by McCain and Clinton are inane, but her retort to the questioner is not, in and of itself, a negative thing for this (undecided) voter.

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  8. Rich Wilson says:

    In the same ABC segment she reiterates her call for a moratorium on foreclosures and an interest rate freeze.

    Sorry economists, we don’t need you anymore. We’ll just regulate nirvana from here on out.

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