Posted tagged ‘Economic illiteracy’

Really Stupid Ideas, take two: Hillary Clinton edition.

April 22, 2008

In this post, I tried to lay out why John McCain’s idea (sic) for a gas tax “holiday” (now there’s an Orwellian usage).

Short form: the holiday would save, on average 28 bucks per person; would cost jobs in the construction business (the gas tax supports the highway trust fund, which pays for road construction and repair), damage our infrastructure — and, as a lagniappe, would further damage any US attempt to address carbon pollution and climate change. (See the first post for links).

The point I made below is that McCain has tried to defend his credentials as the one of the few major Republican party figures to take climate change seriously — but that this proposal shows that he ain’t serious. I think the proposal illustrates much that is wrong with the McCain candidacy in general: it reminds us of his deep economic illiteracy; it is a demonstration of his dangerous capacity for holding two incompatible ideas in his head at the same time, with apparently no strain; and it reveals a very risky commitment to a kind of tooth-fairy approach to governance: if there’s a problem, then anything that sounds like a solution becomes one in fact…

except, of course, it doesn’t.

Why repeat all this?

Because today we learn that McCain has company: Hilary Clinton. All the reasons that a suspension of the gas tax is dumb, dumb, dumb apply just as much when the support comes from a me too Democrat as it does when it pops out of a clueless Republican. Barack Obama, to his credit, sees the idea for the harm-causing gimmick it is, and rejects it.

In many ways, Hillary’s endorsement of McCain’s folly is worse than the original silliness. She is not a policy idiot. She has to understand the immediate and long term economic harm that flows from this. (You don’t fix infrastructure, it costs a ton in difficult to measure ways — everything from blown tires and busted shocks from pot hole interactions to the loss of time (money) that comes when deteriorating roads can’t handle the traffic load.) And above all, she says she takes global warming seriously. Check out her proposals here.

She knows better. She does the wrong thing anyway, presumably for a short term political advantage. (Short term — because it is hard to see how trailing along after McCain helps her in a putative general election run.)

She may not mean it, of course, just as McCain quite probably does not. The gas tax suspension has been proposed for this summer when, as you may have noticed, neither of the two candidates will actually wield any executive authority. This could well be one of those “how dumb do they think we are?…Pretty dumb” campaign trial balloons, to be forgotten the moment real governance begins.

Strangely, that doesn’t make me regard either John McCain or Hillary Clinton more kindly.

For further comment, see Virginia Postrel’s on point asperity here. (h/t Andrew) You can follow her link to Stephen Postrel’s quickie analysis of carbon tax vs. cap and trade economics here. S. Postrel falls into a familiar smart guy trap of opining about stuff he doesn’t actually know when he sneers at the state of climate science. (See Eric Roston’s incredibly generous review essay about my twenty year old book on the subject for context). (And hey — if we couldn’t blather about stuff we barely understood, where would the blogosphere be?) But that aside, he’s put together as clear a brief primer as I have yet seen on the economics of carbon regulation.

Update: John Cole can’t stand the idiocy any more either.  Shorter and funnier than me.

Image: Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.