Omniscience eludes us all. –Robert M. Shelby, 8-10-11. [1090 txt wds]

Humans naturally see and understand inaccurately and incompletely. We see trees half a mile away but, without telescopes, not the leaves or needles on their twigs. Farther away, we see only their vaguely approximate color and a partial shape of the grove in which they stand. Maybe, to our view, that grove of trees modifies the far skyline of a hill. We must nearly put our noses in a sandy beach at the ocean’s shore to see grains of sand. Nor do we quite grasp seawater until we feel its chill on our skins and the press of waves sloshing over us.

It is all too natural for humans to argue tendentiously for things they assume are true, or wish would become accepted as true, by ignoring or staying strategically blind to matters that counter their argument while accepting and focusing only on those which support their case. Myopia and imperfect premise closely condition human existence both in nature and society. What is all too human about people is the tenacity of the way they cling to errors of perception and judgment through ego engagement. They may be far distant from a cloudy horizon but totally identified with an opinion about it, or of what lies just beyond it. Hence, people of low stature or little elevation wrangle heatedly and incessantly, whether over vital matters or trivia.

Now, here’s FOXy John Stossel, recently arguing against President Obama’s new requirement that car manufacturers must nearly double the average miles-per-gallon of gasoline consumption in new cars to 54.5 mpg  by 2050. He calls it a stupid rule. Let’s see if all the stupidity lies with the presidential requirement.

Mr. Stossel tacitly assumes infallibility for The Center for Automotive Research which claims the price of cars will have to rise “about $7,000 dollars” each unit. I, for one, don’t believe this for a minute. (Prices never fall, they will rise anyway.) There should be no added cost for engine redesign and engineering since these go on constantly. The larger fuel efficiencies will come from reduced size, road-weight and perhaps another slight reduction of air resistance in motion. Less metal and plastic per car. It does not really matter that 54.5 mpg will not be easy to reach. It is important to set that target and approach it as soon and nearly as possible. His claim, that higher cost cars will offset consumers’ fuel savings, looks quite uncertain, to me.

Next, Mr. Stossel claims perhaps correctly that the MPG standards have been “killing people for 30 years” because the resulting smaller car-sizes endangered drivers and passengers due to their vulnerability in collision with larger vehicles. This is shown by the way a Ford Focus gets crushed by a Hummer whose driver scarcely notices impact. Stossel takes no account of a general size and weight reduction across the board (excluding freight trucks and service vans, of course.) Stossel is correct, considering only current and recent conditions in which vehicles of extreme difference in size and weight share roads together. Generally reducing size and weight of passenger cars would shrink that differential along with consequent risk. Stossel has drawn in a worst-case scenario via the back door.

Mr. Stossel seems to think government should take no part in fuel economy or vehicle safety. According to his ideological bias, the market should rule. Consumers’ fantasies continually under manipulation by advertising should control production, i.e., “bidness as usual.”  He asks, “Who should make that decision, the government? Or you and I?” Hey, in that “you and I,” I don’t even trust me! I am not the “Totally Rational Economic Man” any more than is anybody else. Of course, Stossel may be concocting his case mainly in order to slam the Obama administration. Would he even have thought to do so if the MPG increase had been a purely bipartisan, congressional initiative? I doubt it.

Then, we have Professor Walter E. Williams’ insistence on the stupidity of President Obama’s call for placing a little luxury tax on corporate jets in hope of gaining an extra trickle down of revenue into the Treasury. Employed by George Mason University which U. S. News & World Report ranks #143 in the nation with a score of 32 points out of a possible 100, Professor Williams may have spent his career in the fields of rank “Ignorance, stupidity and connivance?” as he titled his Creators Syndicate article. (See there, how neatly I turn tendentious with an ad-hominem smear on Prof. Williams?)

Professor Williams makes a reasonable-sounding case against taxing purchases of luxuriously private jet aircraft for corporate officers to travel around the country at corporate expense instead of by public, commercial air-transport. He looks at luxury-tax history two decades back (via a Heartland Institute blog post by Edmund Contosky titled: “Economically illiterate Obama, re: Corporate Jets” 7/12/2011.) He notes that when Congress set a 10% tax on yachts, planes and fancy cars, Ted Kennedy and George Mitchell failed to forsee behavioral change or market “elasticity” between corporate elites and vastly expensive commodities. When, eight months later, some 100,000 jobs had been lost and luxury production shifted overseas with no gain to the Treasury, the tax was repealed in 1993 with losses of some 160 million dollars.

The professor asks: “Is it likely that in the two decades sine 1990, American human nature has changed? If Congress imposes a luxury tax on corporate jets and other luxury items, will Americans behave differently this time? … can we expect federal tax revenues to rise and unemployment to fall as a result …?” He then concedes that he doesn’t believe Obama is stupid enough to expect gains in revenue, but accuses him of wanting to inspire envy and animus against the wealthy, and that he has an agenda for pursuing higher taxes. He may be partly correct, but these are not inevitably bad.

First, Obama has no need to stir anger against the upper crust. It already exists in great force, with ample reason for it. He will naturally use its partisan energy. But, second, neither agendas nor higher taxes are beyond the pale of good sense. Everyone with a wish or intent has at least incipient agenda. Obama wants more revenue coming into the Treasury without the Fed creating it by risky fiat. He wants to inflict the least harm possible with the maximum benefit to the nation. Ease the load on workers and the middle class while demanding more participation in bearing tax-burdens by those most able to pay. I support President Obama. So does Warren Buffett.

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