Why Most Economists Oppose the Gas Tax Holiday

(p. A31) Most economists oppose the Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday because they can’t see how consumers will benefit. In fact, “most” is an understatement; when challenged to name one economist willing to back her plan, Mrs. Clinton’s response was to disparage the whole profession.
Why are economists so opposed? In the short run, the supply of gasoline is basically fixed; it takes a while to build a new refinery. The demand for gasoline, in contrast, is more responsive to price; we’re already seeing greater use of public transportation and brisk sales of fuel-efficient cars. When you combine fixed supply with flexible demand, it’s suppliers, not demanders, who pocket the tax cut. That’s Econ 101.
. . .
When the public rejects the mundane explanations for high gas prices — big boring facts like rapid Asian growth — politicians aren’t going to correct them. The best we can expect is for Washington to try to channel the public’s misconceptions in relatively harmless directions. We could do a lot worse than the gas tax holiday; in fact, we usually do.

For the full commentary, see:
BRYAN CAPLAN. “The 18-Cent Solution.” The New York Times (Thurs., May 8, 2008): A31.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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