The vapidity of cable news, part 1 in an ongoing series

News anchors in re Hillary's gas tax plan: "The economists don't like it, but there are no easy answers".

Yes, yes there are. There are easy answers. The easy answer is "Don't do stupid things of no possible value to the electorate." Just observe how easy this is. I look at the plan to have a gas tax holiday. I note that it is a stupid thing of no possible value to the electorate. Then I do not support the plan to have a gas tax holiday.

To be sure, having blogged for years, I have some experience in these matters. But I do not want you to think that this can only be done by a few lucky souls whom nature has prepared through extraordinary natural talent, fortunate circumstances, and herculean training. Anyone who is not severely cognitively disabled, functionally illiterate, or named Lou Dobbs, can perform this feat in the privacy of their own living room. You do not even need expensive, specialized equipment. In fact, I will let you in on the secret right now.

1. Go to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration page. Look at the refinery utilization statistics. And the world oil production figures. And, of course, the figures on gasoline consumption. They have all been cleverly marked on the page for just this purpose.

2. Take one (1) frosty beer from the refrigerator. Those who do not have beer in the refrigerator may substitute a soft drink, a glass of white wine, or a hard cider. Do not attempt to replace the beer with Zima or wine coolers, however. These are known to cause your IQ to drop by 30 points.

3. Sit down in a comfortable chair with your beverage of choice.

4. Think for two minutes.

You too will be blessed, as if by heaven, with the easy answer: do not fool around with the stupid gas tax. No, I swear. It works every time.

To be sure, there is a worry: all the economists think that fooling with the gas tax is a ridiculous idea. And of course, when you are considering a policy, the last thing you want to do is consult people who study this sort of question for a living. Those are just the kind of ivory tower know-it-alls who will try to get you to go to the hospital to have your appendix removed just because you are spiking a fever and displaying Rovsing's sign. Myself, I don't throw in with all those out-of-touch surgeons; I put my faith in a good, old fashioned cup of tea.

But we also need to recognize that not every single thing eminent economists say is wrong. For example, I once asked Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama's economic advisors, what time it was. He said it was 3:00. He was absolutely correct--it was 3:00, which I know because he read it off the clock on the wall in the room where we were both standing.

Must we abandon common sense merely because economists occasionally speak it? No, I say, a thousand times no, no more than we would abandon children and dogs merely because Hitler was fond of them.

If you think for two minutes, you will realize that you have stumbled upon one of those extraordinary cases where people who have spent their whole lives studying a subject actually understand it as well as, or even better than, people who have spent their whole lives scheming to get their hands on as much political power as possible. Perhaps you thought that you, like most people, would go your whole life without encountering such an unlikely situation, but now it is upon you. I say, trust your heart. Throw your lot in with the economists, and stick to your guns even when they start talking about regression coefficients. No matter how frightening your fellow travellers, finding the right course is easy--so easy that even a politician could do it. If only they would.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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