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Elections, Hot Air, and Gas

Election season is probably the best time for bad economic policies to garner support — and one of the roles of academic economists is to call the candidates out on terrible policy.

From yesterday’s New York Times, we learn that:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.

Greg Mankiw
‘s commentary
is spot on:

I don’t know any prominent economist who favors this McCain-Clinton proposal. More common is the reaction of a friend of mine (a veteran of the Clinton administration) who calls the idea “ludicrous.”

I’m all for giving folks a helping hand, if that is the rationale. But why give a bigger helping hand to those who drive more, pollute more, and cause more car accidents? And why encourage even greater consumption of gasoline?

Let me go a step further, and pose a challenge:

If any reader can find a coherent economist not affiliated with any of the major campaigns who thinks this is a good idea, then please add a link in the comments.

My prediction:

Perhaps some hot air, but we won’t find any economist willing to support this nonsense. Not a right-wing economist, not a left-wing economist, and not even a two-handed economist.

Critics might note (fairly) that we economists are often wrong. But when opinion is unanimous that a proposal is terrible, it is probably time for the electorate to send a message to their wannabe leaders that they expect something a bit more responsible.