Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MCain loses my vote

Today, John McCain gave a major speech on economics and proves it really isn't his thing. I read the whole thing. Most of it was fluff. He's sort of a step behind trends, which actually makes him look pretty good compared to most politicians (who are 3 steps behind at best). The parts that he should have expanded upon (like corruption on Wall Street), he didn't and the concrete parts are total crap (like the "choose your tax system" and making the 2001 tax cuts permanent). He could have said, 'I'll double the budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission.' That's something concrete that would dispel skepticism that he's not just another fiscally irresponsible Bush Republican.

And then I get to this part:

I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil...

I'll address the SPR part first. Filling SPR is something that should have been done a long time ago, when prices were much lower. If we assume for a moment that we must start bombing Iran soon or have a 100-year war in Iraq, filling SPR is a life or death necessity. Under that assumption, i does nothing but weakens the national security of the United States. Period.

The gas tax repeal has been put forth a few times in the past. Most of the time, it has been suggested as part of an emergency response to an OPEC embargo or hurricane along the Energy Coast (to borrow a phase from Mary Landrieu). Bob Dole suggested that in '96. For a short term emergency, it's an acceptable band-aid, but to ease a supply shortfall that isn't going away any time soon, it borders on suicidal. Not only that, but it fails basic economics. The price is determined, at it's most basic level, by supply and demand. His plan artificially lowers the price, which will raise demand. Since his plan doesn't address supply and there's not likely to be any dramatic changes over this summer (at least not positive ones), the price of gas will just go back to the level it's at now within a month or two. Then, what do you think the chances of politicians re-instituting the gas tax right before a major election? Not a snowball's chance in hell, leading to a repeat of this on a national scale:

Image from Wiki page on Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Imagine hundreds of bridges all across the country collapsing with cars careening over the edge...

Another thing that bugs me is I think he knows what he's saying is bullshit. He was smart enough to realize corn-based ethanol was bullshit when everyone else was gaga for it (and then, like all the other candidates, shut his pie hole right before Iowa). Knowing your plan is bullshit, yet expounding upon it anyway is reminiscent an alleged quote of Huey Long's in regard to the "Share Our Wealth" program. When Long was confronted by a someone running the numbers on his program and told their weren't enough rich people to make it work, Long allegedly said, "Yeah, but by the time they figure that out, I'll have them sold on something else."* McCain's plan smacks of unbridled demagoguery.

It really pains me to say all this, too. I really liked McCain. I remembered rooting for him in the primaries back in 2000 when I was still in high school. My dad knew the Mississippi McCains well. I read his book. I watched him speak to a crowd that was packed to the rafters during my Katrina semester at Ole Miss. It pains me to say this, but Senator McCain, you have lost my vote.

UPDATE- The Hillary/McCain gas tax plan reborn as a Nigerian fraud scam. Appropriate.

* I've been looking for a source on the internet for that. Am I just making the quote up? Did it come from a debunked history? If anyone knows, please let me know.


jeffrey said...

Using the index and skimming the text of T. Harry Williams's Huey bio, I don't find the quote you refer to but consider what I do find... if you'll excuse the long quote (pp 729-730):

Some of his enemies charged that he knew his plan would not work. He had put it forth only to catch votes for the presidency, they proclaimed. Some of his friends had the same suspicion, and they claimed that when they questioned him about the plan, he admitted it was impractical. These men were, however, very conservative Longites, and it is possible that Huey was only assuring them that Share Our Wealth was not a radical scheme. He asserted many times that he was sincere in pushing the plan. "My enemies believe I'm faking," he said once. "Let them think it. That's in my favor. All the time they fight me, they fight upon a mistaken basis."

He probably did believe that Share Our Wealth was a workable formula. In his moods of high elation he was likely to think that he could make any formula work. It is evident, however, that he developed doubts about some of the aspects of the plan and that he came to realize wealth could not be as easily distributed as he had thought. He would probably have modified the plan had he become President, retaining and emphasizing the tax provisions. The plan might seem visionary but it was a time that tempted visions.

Skip details of other "visions"

Huey's plan differed from the others in being more complex and far reaching. The plans of Coughlin, Townsend, and Sinclair were essentially only formulas for recovery. They might have lifted the country out of the Depression but they would not have changed significantly the existing economic structure or existing economic relationships.

Tim said...

ASCE agrees with you: a gas tax holiday is a vacation from common sense.




sass said...

And what about his lame visit to the ninth ward after buddying up with Hagee, who think Katrina was sent to NOLA by God... can't take talking outta both sides of the mouth thing! And what about McCain saying the gap between the pay of women and men in this country isn't due to discrimination. Women just need more "education and training" to earn as much as men? He leaves alot to be desired...

JohnnyB said...


Isn't it more appropriate to say that taxes artificially inflate the price of gas? What McCain is advising is that consumers pay the true price of gas. For this he has lost your vote? As far as the bridge collapse, give me a break dude. There isn't enough money spent on infrastructure? The budget is plenty big enough, the priorities on spending is all wrong. So no need to engage in the goofy demagoguery you so often rightly abhor.

Clay said...


That's the infrastructure (civil works) from the early 20th century to today. It's indexed to GDP. You can see the WPA projects. You can see the interstate boom.

Ever since 1980, infrastructure spending, compared to the past, has dropped off to zero.

It's not like there's nothing we could be building. Just look at Europe (and then there are plenty of levees we could be building...). Look at the marvelous rail network they've built. We also have a lot of existing infrastructure that's WAY beyond it's original design life.

Gas prices are supply and demand. Dropping the price without doing anything for supply will result in the price returning to exactly where it was in short order.