« The Church/State Paradox | Main | True Confessions »

Pundit's Fallacy Watch

This week's Tom Friedman column on energy policy is significantly sounder than his usual efforts on this front. But surely this is the Pundit's Fallacy to beat all Pundit's Fallacies:

We need a gasoline tax that would keep pump prices fixed at $4 a gallon, even if crude oil prices go down . . . start building nuclear power plants again . . . we need some kind of carbon tax . . . Imagine if George Bush declared that he was . . . adopting a geo-green strategy . . . His popularity at home - and abroad - would soar.
His popularity might soar abroad. Maybe. And his popularity at home among a narrow segment of intellectuals might soar. But the public would lynch him.

March 27, 2005 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Pundit's Fallacy Watch:

» Pundit's Fallacy Watch from Outside The Beltway
Matthew Yglesias demonstrates, rather convincingly, he is much better atuned to the American polity than his former teacher, Thomas Friedman. Indeed, what the hell is Friedman thinking? [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 28, 2005 10:25:14 AM


Ain't it the truth?

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Mar 27, 2005 2:09:04 PM

Remember the old Governor of California? Remember what happened when vehicle registration fees were about to increase? The idea of the President opting for gasoline at 4 dollars is beyond absurd. Republicans are not going to be increasing taxes and making sure there is a Democratic majority in Congress in 2 years and a Democratic President in 4 years.

Thomas Friedman writes as though there were no world beyond him. Here was once a terrific columnist.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 2:21:06 PM

Well, his own party would lynch him, that's for sure.

I would argue with some of Friedman's suggestions and substitute some of my own, but as a whole it's an order of magnitude better than anything I would ever expect out of Washington. If this was a serious proposal from the White House, I would support it as strongly as possible.

But to ask why why why a President beholden to oil interests wouldn't pursue such a plan? Doesn't Friendman...like...read the news?

Posted by: Chuchundra | Mar 27, 2005 2:23:29 PM

Bush's popularity surely would decline if he simply announced a pile of taxes, justified by nothing more than vague policy ideals.

But I tend to agree with Friedman that if Bush proposed a Kennedyesque national commitment to developing a post-petroleum economy and achieving total energy dependence by such-and-such a date, and proposed the taxes, along with other sacrifices, as a way to fund research initiatives into energy alternatives, seed enterprises, do programmatic restructuring etc., educate children etc., he would get the public behind him. Most liberals would love it; and many traditional conservatives are enamored of every kind of independence and national self-sufficiency. Conservatives were willing to pay for the space program because it was framed as a vital national security interest, and surely the same case could be made here. Neoconnish conservatives might balk, along with the oil industry, but just about everybody else would get behind it. I sure would.

Just like Nixon going to China, this has always struck me as an obvious political home run for Bush. He's an oilman from way back. What better way to break the mold, go against type, unite the country and secure a place in history as a far-seeing statesman? He has certinly built up enough political capital among conservatives to try something like this.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 27, 2005 2:31:18 PM

I disagree with MY. The key word is "declared". If GWB declared that he was doing these things, I think his popularity would indeed increase, so long as he didn't actually make gas $4/gallon. Why are you connecting the two?

Posted by: Allen K. | Mar 27, 2005 2:37:53 PM

"Well, his own party would lynch him, that's for sure."

Were Democrats to support gasoline prices of 4 dollars a gallon, there would be no Democrats in the coming Congresses. Politics is not having disdain for voters. Heck, I might become a Republican if Democrats were nasty enough to suggest a 4 dollar price for gasoline. This has nothing to do with "oil interests." A 4 dollar price for gasoline would likely cause a recession, would be a regressive tax in the extreme, immediately lose every lower income voter and almost all middle income voters. There is a reason the new Governor of California is still so popular. No vehicle registration tax.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 2:37:57 PM

Friedman is clueless on so many levels. Among other things, a variable tax targeting a fixed price encourages OPEC to try to game the actual price as close as possible to that fixed price. We'd get most of the bad, and little of the good.

And nobody is going to impose a gas tax of that magnitude; it would be political suicide. We are going to burn the oil until it is all used up, and we are going to fill the atmosphere with as much CO2 as that implies, and we had better get used to it, and prepare for the consequences. Bush got 50+% of the vote despite his objective horribleness as a president, and Big Money (oil, auto industry) and Small Paranoia ("I feel safer in my SUV") will fight just as hard at every election to protect their interests. China, India, and the rest of the developing world have every right to be just as shortsighted and greedy as us, and they will be.

"Stupid, stupid rat creatures" plus "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Posted by: dr2chase | Mar 27, 2005 2:46:45 PM


Suppose they cut your income tax by $1000 ( or whatever the average increase in gasoline expense would be in your state) as part of the deal? Or your social security tax for those who pay less than $1000 annually in income taxes? As long as it would be revenue neutral to the typical citizen, I don't see why people would bitch. Well, they always bitch but I don't see why they should bitch.

Posted by: Quiet Storm | Mar 27, 2005 2:49:53 PM

$4 gas is galactically stupid, but there is room for bipartisan support in this direction. 25% of Prius drivers are Republicans, for a very, very obvious reason. Yes, Republicans tend to view driving a Hummer with a leaky gas tank as a God-given right and a cornerstone of Americanism, but the right to drive a Hummer powered strictly by gasoline from the Arabian Peninsula seems to be less strongly felt. A Hybrid Hummer (or hydrogen-powered like Arnie purportedly drives), or one powered by non-Arabian oil. Liberals often espouse buying "fair trade" coffee or sweatshirts not produced in sweatshops. Couldn't "free society" oil draw broad support?

Of course, where would it come from? Nigeria (Shell)? Burma (Unocal)? Venezuela? ANWR?

Posted by: Adam M | Mar 27, 2005 2:50:41 PM

Ah Pogo Possum, where are you when we need us.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 2:51:01 PM

...if the tax was designed to produce a 4 dollar per gallon pump price, regardless of the actual cost of production, gas distribution companies would charge $4 before tax.

The UK government has a similar dilemma, since although most of the price of a gallon of petrol is tax, the increases above inflation are due to the oil companies. If the government tries to decrease the tax burden on motorists by reducing the tax, the companies will just increase their fraction of the price to fill the gap and the motorist will see nothing.

This is not to say that shifting tax burden onto gas is a bad thing in itself, but it needs a certain minimum of competence in implementation - a minimum which Friedman doesn't possess.

Posted by: stringph | Mar 27, 2005 2:51:37 PM

What Dan Kervick said.

This poll doesn't mention taxes, but still rather telling:
Gallup Poll. March 7-10, 2005:
"Which of the following approaches to solving the nation's energy problems do you think the U.S. should follow right now: emphasize production of more oil, gas and coal supplies, or emphasize more conservation by consumers of existing energy supplies?"
Production: 28%
Conservation: 61%

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 27, 2005 2:55:01 PM

Friedman is a self-important, know-nothing blowhard. It's interesting to see that his utter cluelessness is not limited to the Middle East.

Posted by: Shirin | Mar 27, 2005 2:57:07 PM

Conservation is terrific. The Prius is a wonderful car. I am for all sorts of conservation measures, but a 4 dollar price for gas would be intolerable. China is purposely keeping gas prices low, not to harm the economy and her drivers.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 3:09:17 PM

W could have done it post-9/11. That was one of the items I was looking for as markers for whether or not BushCheney was serious about "defending America". Not to take effect right away of course, but after it became clear the economy had survived a $0.50-1.00 tax would have sent a strong message to the "mullahs" the Radicals claim to hate so much.

Instead we go the Hummer H2. That sent a different message...


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Mar 27, 2005 3:34:31 PM

How can so regressive a tax be helpful in any way? There are many other conservation measures possible.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 3:37:16 PM

> How can so regressive a tax be helpful in any
> way? There are many other conservation measures
> possible.

As far as I have been able to see, the only conservation measure that individuals and corporate entities in the United States pay attention to are pricing signals. Everthing else falls victim sooner or later (and usually sooner) to the American desire to figure out some way to "beat the system" and "stick it to the man".

When I worked for an electric utility, we made a decent attempt to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act, as you would expect from a company run by engineers. But the day it became possible to sell excess pollution credits we started tracking pollutants to the gram and never incur a violation which would endanger a sellable credit.

Yeah, the regressivity of it sucks. Perhaps an income tax credit could be included. But peak oil or not we have to start dealing with the fact that the oil is gone and we have to figure out a way around that.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Mar 27, 2005 4:09:06 PM

In Europe their version of automobile excise tax is based not on your car's value like in the US (or at least in MA), but on the engine volume. So, you pay, say, $300/year for 1.6L car and, say, $800/year for 3.0L car. I don't know if this is regressive, but it seems to make a bit more sense conservation-wise.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 27, 2005 4:25:39 PM

Since what the US pays for gasoline is so low compared to the rest of the world, it almost amounts to a subsidy. The US consists of about six percent of the world's population yet consumes 25 percent of this dwindling resource. The forces of capitalism will only be marshalled to solve this problem if it becomes economically necessary to do so.

Posted by: P. Whirler | Mar 27, 2005 4:25:56 PM

Even if I would support 'energy independence' (I would, would the caveat that we attempt everything, rather than hew to one specific set of technologies), I wouldn't support 4$/gallon can of gas. Even besides the obvious burden on not-well-off people (like me, for instance, which I could cope with, if that was the only problem I had) every other price (including the price on cheap Chinese crap that Tom is so enamoured of) would instantly skyrocket.

We're talking instant double-digit inflation, and enough business dislocation to induce 10% employment. And we wouldn't actually HAVE anything to replace gas with yet. You could get the same effect by taxing something else, and subsidizing some other technology, and when the other technology comes online, then increasing gas prices. But the instant solution to our energy issues concept sounds remarkably similar to the 'the easy way of spreading democracy is invading Iraq' idea.

It might be pundit's fallacy but the root is simple economic idiocy. Or just simple idiocy.

We really need to get the Blackberrys away from these old people.

['It's like cellphones in cars.']

Posted by: ash | Mar 27, 2005 4:29:43 PM

Cranky, thank you for letting me grumble.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 4:36:09 PM


There seems to be a much better idea, though likely still unpopular. I am not against taxing for conservation per se, but we have to be awfully careful and there is a Republican Congress.

Posted by: lise | Mar 27, 2005 4:39:33 PM

"I am for all sorts of conservation measures, but a 4 dollar price for gas would be intolerable."

You realize there is a whole continent out there that gets by with even higher prices already, don't you?

The end of cheap oil is coming, both from actual depletion at some point, and from rapid industrialization in China and India in the interim. Why do you think China has been madly investing in oil projects and companies around the world for the past few years? I would like for the US to manage the challenge of substantially higher oil prices so that we don't run up against some kind of SHTF scenario. Or fight another oil war, for that matter.

Implementing a gas tax that increases by $0.20 a year for the next 15 or 20 years is the best way to 1) reduce demand via conservation and innovation, 2) keep prices for non-transport uses low, 3) keep Saudi Arabia and other nastys from capturing too much of the excess profit. (Saudi is still the lowest-cost producer at ~$10 barrel.) We could attempt to manage the demand side through various regulations, but that has been a spectacular failure in the transportation sector so far (it has worked better in the housing sector).

Posted by: Tom DC/VA | Mar 27, 2005 4:42:33 PM

Something you should all consider -- imagine if the Bush administration, instead of futilely invading Iraq, had spent those $200 billion on developing alternative energy resources, especially wind and solar. By my calculations, that would pay to convert more than half of U.S. domestic electricity to renewable sources, over time of course. The effect would be to make Middle East rulers more accountable to their peoples and spontaneously bring about political change in the region. The United States could even have spent many of those billions bribing Jewish settlers to live legally inside Israel or wherever else they want to live, freeing the West Bank for a viable Palestinian state acceptable to 99 percent of Arabs. But of course, it's so much more fun killing people and laying waste their lands. And the television pictures are so much more impressive. By the way, the price of gas would plummet under this scenario because the only use for it would be for making plastics and other petrochemicals, not for burning.
That's farsighted policy for you.

Posted by: Gonson | Mar 27, 2005 4:51:23 PM

Whine, whine, whine. We've got to reduce our dependence on foreign oil but God forbid we do anything to actually achieve it. The only way to get the morons in this country to stop buying huge SUVs and even more powerful cars is to make gas more expensive. The price of gas has doubled in this country over the last two years. The economy has managed to do okay in spite of that. Europe manages just fine with gas prices(and energy of all types) at least twice that of what we have here.

It's not that we can't live with $4 a gallon gas, it's that we don't want to. I fucking need a 6000 lb Chevy Suburban with a 350 hp engine and four wheel drive to take two kids to soccer practice in Dallas, Texas. You never know when that blizzard is going to hit.

The only people who benefitted from that rise in oil price has been oil company employees, mostly the executives, the people who own the oil, and the terrorists who are funded by oil money.

If George Bush had proposed a increase in gas taxes to raise $200 billion on 9/15/2001 by the end of 2004 to invest in alternative energy research and encouraged people to carpool, take public transporation, telecommute where feasible while the country worked to free itself from its addiction from foreign oil. And had not instead gone $200 billion into debt fighting a useless war in Iraq we we would be much better off today: safer, more properous, gas would probably cost a little more than it does but the money would belong to us not Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: Freder Frederson | Mar 27, 2005 4:54:51 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.