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Thursday, May 08, 2008

A "Misguided Attempt to Appear Unbiased"

Jeff Frankel reacts to Bryan Caplan's op-ed on the gas-tax holiday:

How Far the NYT had to go to Find an Economist to Support the Gas Tax Holiday, by Jeff Frankel: Economists frequently complain that even when 98% of the profession agrees on something (say a free-trade proposition), the media will go to lengths to dig up an economist from the 2% minority in order to balance one from the 98% majority, in its feverish and misguided attempt to appear unbiased and balanced on every issue, even issues that don’t really have two sides. The New York Times op-ed page has outdone itself today by publishing “The 18-cent Solution” by Bryan Caplan. The “callout” heading is “Found: an economist who backs the summer gas-tax holiday.” The impetus, of course, was the question posed to Hillary Clinton by a reporter: can you name a single economist who supports the idea of a summer gas tax holiday?

In this case, the NYT couldn’t find an economist who really takes the minority position on economic grounds, or even on reasonable political economy grounds. ...  Rather Caplan’s argument is a very convoluted political rationalization: (1) the high gas prices engender populist concerns that might lead to bad policies, (2) yes, a gas tax holiday is a bad policy, but (3) one can make a political argument for the gas tax holiday because it is not as bad as some of the other “populist nonsense: price controls, rationing, windfall profits taxes…” that we might get instead. This political argument is quite a stretch as it is, but he then goes on to make it truly absurd by supporting “a pairing of an excess profits tax with a gas tax holiday” on the grounds that it is not as bad as “an excess profits tax all by itself.” Apparently two bad policies is better than none! ...

Bryan Caplan is a perfectly competent economist, with a Ph.D. and a job and everything. ... Why would he spout the nonsense that is in this op-ed? The answer is very clear: it is the way to get into the New York Times. He gleefully admits as much on his blog today: “I’ve finally made the Gray Lady: Today’s New York Times features my op-ed inspired by Sunday’s post, I’ll Shill for Hillary. I hope critics don’t misrepresent me as an economic apostate; I’m not dissenting from the standard analysis… look on the bright side: I’m in the New York Times. Sweet!”

Bryan: A suggestion. You should now write a letter to the New York Times retracting your op-ed on the grounds that you should have known that readers would incorrectly infer that you were supporting the policy on economic grounds. [Arnold, can you help out here?] If you do this, the Club of Economists might let you back in. Plus, you will have gotten your name in the NYT a second time! Sweet!”

    Posted by on Thursday, May 8, 2008 at 08:10 PM in Economics, Politics, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (9)


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