gimme-five | The blog of a busy guy.

TAG | drive reports that while economists have overwhelmingly ridiculed the idea of suspending the gas tax over the summer, Hillary Clinton has continued to stick to her guns. Clinton, after hearing that the economists thought the idea was ridiculous, stated:

I’m not going to put my lot in with economists

Ya know, it’s perfectly fine to say that you’re not going to listen to a consensus of football players giving you advice on filling out your taxes. Or a large group of lawyers giving you advice on how to paint your house. But generally, if you’re untrained in a subject, and practically an entire professional field gives you advice on the subject they specialize in, you should probably listen. And if you’re not going to listen, you’d better have a darned good explanation beyond “I know where you’re coming from, small folk,” for why you’re deviating from trained professionals. So Hillary (and Mr. McCain): if it makes sense to suspend gas taxes, please come forward and explain why rather than giving the same old pandering political speeches about how you’re trying to help “the little guy.” Call me an elitist, but I would rather that economic decisions follow the advice of trained professionals than “the little guy,” who hasn’t learned a thing about economics in his entire life.

But this isn’t even about elitists versus “the common folk.” This is about whether we want to help the country or hurt it. If I had a choice between having a mechanic fix my car or a random neighbor, why the heck would I pick the neighbor? And if I have a choice between having Hillary Clinton or John McCain making economic policy based on hunches or someone who is going to defer to a trained professional, I’m surely going to pick the person who defers to the trained professional.

This proposal to suspend the gas tax sickens me. This is why I hate politics so much.

Please note that this is not an endorsement of Barack Obama. He’s got plenty of problems, too, the gas tax is just an area where he pseudo-shines.

Update 5/6/2008: Greg Mankiw writes:

Why, then, are candidates proposing the holiday? I can think of three hypotheses:

Ignorance: They don’t know that the consensus of experts is opposed.

Hubris: They know the experts are opposed, but they think they know better.

Mendacity with a dash of condescension: They know the experts are opposed, and they secretly agree, but they think they can win some votes by pulling the wool over the eyes of an ill-informed electorate.

So which of these three hypotheses is right? I don’t know, but whichever it is, it says a lot about the character of the candidates.

Update 5/7/2008: From The Wall Street Journal

John McCain and Hillary Clinton want to send cash-strapped consumers on holidays from the federal gasoline tax. But the law they can’t rewrite — the law of supply and demand — suggests it would backfire. Lower taxes would encourage people to drive more, meaning more demand that would push prices higher again.

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My car is currently on its deathbed.  My 1990 Toyota Camry has been so good to me for so long.  However, I took it in to a repair shop a few weeks ago because I thought the rear cylinders were leaking.  I wasn’t too worried because rear cylinder repairs are only a couple hundred bucks.

Turns out I was right… sort of.   Not only were the rear cylinders leaking (slightly), but both front CV joints on my car are cracked, I have a bunch of “valve issues” and I’ve got oil leaking on my timing belt.  Total projected repair cost: $1800.  My car’s blue book value: sub $500.  So I’ve come to the conclusion, that sometime in the near future, I need to find another car.

I’ve been looking around at new and used cars, and I’m probably going to go with the smallest, cheapest, most reliable thing out there, as I am a law student rapidly accumulating debt.  However, the one aspect of this decision that bothers me the most is that because the average car on the road is getting bigger, and more and more people are driving SUVs, roads have become more dangerous for drivers of smaller cars.  Essentially, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma of safety.  All else equal, you can be safer if you drive a bigger car, at the cost of making everyone else less safe.  The irony is that if everyone drives bigger cars, then we’re all just as safe as if we all drove smaller cars (or maybe even less safe if you factor in the increased likelihood of flipping over), because with each additional larger car on the road, there is an increased risk of being hit by a larger car, which will cause more damage than an equivalent accident with a smaller car.

Honestly, this will not affect my decision.  Because I believe that pollution, resource depletion, and congestion are such serious problems, I would be a hypocrite to go out and buy a big car.  Plus, the probability of getting into an accident where the “safety rating” of your car is an issue is insignificant – despite what commercials tell us.

Yet I can see how many people, especially those with families, choose to buy a bigger car primarily for safety concerns.  Ironically, the danger they are trying to protect against is generated by other people, just like them, who are trying to be safe.

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A Better Blood Drive?

The American Red Cross needs to do two things to attract more people to give blood.

First, give money instead of coupons/shwag/etcetera.  Everyone loves money.  Not everyone loves specific goods.

Secondly, and most importantly, market giving blood as a weight loss tool.  Apparently you burn something like 2,000 calories on average by giving blood.  For a lot of people, that is a day’s worth of food.  Since Americans will do all sorts of crazy things except eating right and exercising to lose weight, such as the cabbage soup diet, you’d think they would also try giving blood every now and then.  I think 2,000 calories is close to one pound of fat (I think one pound is 2,500).  So the American Red Cross should be saying: “Donate Blood – Lose a Pound!”

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