Archive for April, 2008

Apr 29 2008

Obama vs. McCain and Clinton on gas tax relief

As Clinton Seeks Gas Tax Break for Summer, Obama Says No – New York Times

Times are tough for American consumers. Rising food and fuel prices have increased the proportion of household incomes that must be allocated towards these two necessities, both for which demand is highly inelastic, meaning that as their prices rise, the quantity demanded by consumers remains relatively high.

In response to the pinching of Americans’ pocketbooks, two presidential candidates are advocating action at the federal level.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season.

Sounds like a good idea, right? If Americans are finding it burdensome to pay more at the pump, and the government can do something to relieve that burden, why shouldn’t they do it?

Let’s do a little calculation here: At 18.4 cents per gallon, how much per fill-up will Americans save?

I drive a ’94 Toyota pick-up, has a 15 gallon tank and gets notoriously poor mileage. I’ll save $2.76 per tank of gas I buy. I usually fill up my truck about once a week during the summer, meaning I’ll save that much each week. McCain wants to suspend the gas tax from Memorial Day until Labor Day, or for a total of about 12 weeks. If Clinton and McCain get their way, I could very well save as much as $33.12 this year! ASTOUNDING!! What a deal for Americans!

Clearly, repealing the gas tax will have only a minor impact on disposable incomes in America. Obama seems to understand this better than the other candidates:

Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports

Mr. Obama derided the McCain-Clinton idea of a federal tax holiday as a “short-term, quick-fix” proposal that would do more harm than good, and said the money, which is earmarked for the federal highway trust fund, is badly needed to maintain the nation’s roads and bridges.

The decision to suspend or not suspend federal gas taxes is essentially a cost-benefit decision. The benefit? Well, apparently around $30 per driver, or about half a tank of gas, compliments of the US government. The cost? Read on…

The highway trust fund that the gas tax finances provides money to states and local governments to pay for road and bridge construction, repair and maintenance. Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton propose to suspend the tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the peak driving season, which would lower tax receipts by roughly $9 billion and potentially cost 300,000 highway construction jobs, according to state highway officials.

There you have it; $9 billion dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs that won’t be created in order to put half a tank of gas in each American’s car, which if you think about it, will only lead to Americans driving more this summer. Repealing the gas tax may actually induce Americans who weren’t planning road trips to go ahead and take one, increasing the overall demand for gas and driving the price up to the level it would have been with the tax.

And what about the much needed government revenue the tax creates? Hillary has another plan for recouping that loss:

Mrs. Clinton would replace that money with the new tax on oil company profits, an idea that has been kicking around Congress for several years but has not been enacted into law. Mr. McCain would divert tax revenue from other sources to make the highway trust fund whole.

Clearly, Mrs. Clinton needs a refresher course in basic microeconomics. If she had paid attention in AP Economics (did she even take AP Econ?), Clinton would know that a tax on producers of a highly inelastic good such as oil can be passed almost entirely onto the consumers. In this case, the oil companies, when faced with additional federal taxes on profits, will respond by restricting output, which reduces overall supply in oil market, raising the price of the main input for gasoline. Higher input costs for gasoline refineries will reduce overall supply of gasoline, increasing the price paid by consumers at the pump, negating any price-reduction induced by the suspension of the gas tax.

Ultimately, all taxes are borne by the consumers of an inelastic product: gasoline in this case. Whether the tax is levied on drivers directly, or the oil companies “upstream” in the production process, the outcome is the same: supply is restricted and price is higher.

The suspension of a gas tax that only costs Americans $30 over 3 months appears to impose a much greater cost to society than benefit. At least Obama seems to understand the basic economic reasoning behind this fact.

Obama on State Gas Tax Suspension

9 responses so far

Apr 29 2008

Welker’s Wikinomics Blog joins Forbes.com’s “Business & Finance Blog Network”

Forbes.com to Launch Business and Finance Blog Network – Forbes.com

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to join the Forbes.com Business and Finance Blog Network. The network is set to launch this month:

Today Forbes.com, home page for the world’s business leaders, announced the creation of a Business and Finance Blog Network, comprised of a community of pre-screened, influential business and financial blogs.

The Blog Network’s content will focus on senior business decision makers and high-net-worth investors. Topics will be relevant to the banking, trading, hedge fund management, affluent investing, and senior business decision-making communities. Participation in the network is by invitation only, and all blogs are vetted by Forbes.com editors for appropriate content, and to ensure that they are in keeping with the Forbes editorial brand.

I guess the folks at Forbes.com figured that even billionaire investors needed to be educated in the basic Economic concepts! So now Welker’s Wikinomics will cater to the following audiences:

  • 17-18 year old IB and AP Economics students
  • Teachers of IB and AP Economics
  • University students in Principles of Economics courses
  • Hedge fund managers
  • Billionaire investors
  • Warren Buffet

I’m honored to be a part of this network; and don’t worry, the blog will continue to focus on communicating Economics news in a way accessible and educationally appropriate for students in a principles of Economics course. After all, that is my comparative advantage!

4 responses so far

Apr 28 2008

More on exchange rates: Winners and losers of a strong British pound

BBC NEWS | Business | Q&A: Strong pound – winners and losers

Here’s another great article to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of a strong currency. The British pound reached an all time high against the dollar late last year ($2.08 per pound, or 48 pence per dollar!!). So who are the winners and losers from a strong British pound, anyway?

Here’s a quick run-down… to read about why, click the link and read the article.

  • Winners: Brits traveling and shopping in the US, US businesses, British airlines, British consumers, British drivers
  • Losers: Americans traveling in Britain, small businesses in the UK, British exporting firms, British airlines, shareholders in certain companies.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why may British airlines benefit AND lose with a stronger British pound?
  2. Who else will benefit from the strengthening pound that is not mentioned by the article? Refer to your notes from class.
  3. Who else will be harmed by the stronger pound that is not mentioned?

Powered by ScribeFire.

43 responses so far

Apr 28 2008

Does the weak dollar help US manufacturers?

Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than it might seem at first. This podcast looks at the impact of the falling dollar on the aerospace industry, in which manufacturing for the industry’s largest firms is sourced to hundreds of smaller companies each with factories in countless countries from North America to Europe to Asia.

The recent fluctuations in the US dollar exchange rate has wreaked havoc for firms located in the US and trying to compete in this competitive market. In some cases, the outcome has been positive, but as you’ll hear, not always.

Listen to this podcast then discuss the questions below:

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has the weaker dollar helped the Connecticut firm Kamatics?
  2. How has Kamatics been hurt by the weaker dollar?
  3. Why do fluctuations in the dollar make “business more unstable”?
  4. How does the impact of currency swings become more ambiguous “as the economies of the world become more intertwined”?
  5. Why did EchoAir stop manufacturing products in Romania? What impact would a revaluation of the Chinese Yuan have on EchoAir’s current manufacturing decisions?

5 responses so far

Apr 26 2008

From the Help Desk – more on loanable funds and the money market

Carmen submitted the following through the “Econ Help Desk

Please help me with a student question. If the FED pursues expansionary monetary policy, lowering the nominal interest rate in hopes of spurring investment and increasing aggregate demand, how does this connect to the loanable funds market? If nominal interest rates are down, won’t real ones go down too, causing people to save less? In this case, where will the supply of loanable funds to meet investment demand come from?

Below is my reply to Carmen:

Good question… here’s my understanding, so take it as you will…

To expand the money supply the Fed will buy bonds on the open market. This increases demand for bonds, raises their prices, lowering the effective interest rate on bonds, making these securities less attractive to investors, who will sell them back to the Fed in exchange for liquid money that is now part of the money supply.

Investors will put some of their new money into banks, where interest rates are now relatively more attractive than the declining rates on government bonds. Some of the new money created by the Fed’s purchase of bonds therefore ends up in the loanable funds market, shifting the supply of loanable funds out, lowering real interest rates, increasing the quantity demanded of funds for investment and consumption, hence the expansionary impact on Aggregate Demand.

If any readers has another take on the transition from expansionary monetary policy to a decline in the real interest rate in the LF market, please leave your ideas in a comment below.

~Jason Welker

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