Monday, May 5, 2008

Gas Tax: Clinton Trusts Her Gut (Not Economists)

Hillary Clinton seems to be resorting to the "truthiness" defense of the gas tax holiday proposal. The Times' campaign blog reports:
This morning, George Stephanopoulos began his televised interview with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by asking if she could name a single economist who supported her plan for a gas-tax suspension.

Mrs. Clinton did not.“I’m not going to put in my lot with economists,” she said on the ABC program “This Week.” A few moments later, she added, “Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantages the vast majority of Americans.”

Throughout the exchange, Mrs. Clinton argued that she trusted her own eyes and ears instead. “This gas tax issue to me is very real,” she said, “because I have been meeting people across Indiana and North Carolina who drive for a living, who commute long distances, who would save money.”

Senator Barack Obama has derided the gas-tax suspension as a gimmick that would save consumers little and cost thousands of jobs. Kara Glennon, a member of the audience at a town-hall-style meeting, seemed to agree. Gas prices are “not academic” for her, she told Mrs. Clinton, because she makes less than $25,000 a year — and then she accused Mrs. Clinton of pandering. “Call me crazy, but I listen to economists because I think I know what they studied,” she said.
Thank you, Ms. Glennon. The American people may be smarter than Clinton and McCain (who first proposed the idea) give them credit for; Reuters reports:
The poll also found that Americans were divided over one of the hottest issue in the campaign, a gasoline tax suspension. Forty-nine percent think lifting the tax is a bad idea, while 45 percent approve of the plan.
Meanwhile, the economics profession continues to reject and denounce the idea: over 150 economists, including some prominent names, have signed a statement opposing it (for more, see this earlier post).

Update (5/6): Speaking of truthiness, Stephen Colbert applauds Clinton and McCain for their "courage in the face of so-called experts," and urges them to take the gas tax holiday a step further:
"Backing a policy experts think is a terrible idea just proves you are ready to be president," he says. Indeed. Here is the web version of the economists' open letter opposing the holiday, which continues to accumulate signatures. At Econbrowser, James Hamilton analyzes the effects of higher gas prices and explains why he signed the letter. Greg Mankiw finds that the proposal has an unsurprising origin.

Update #2 (5/6): Krugman says we're overreacting.
Update #3 (5/7): No, we're not, say Mankiw, and deLong, who believes "it is important that presidential candidates fear economists."

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