Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Incoherence All Over Again

Coinciding with the morning of Pulitzer Prize press self-congratulation, Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren take many of the nation's top reporters to task for being astonishingly ignorant of basic economics. The two write about the "Gas Panic" and so many journalists' inability to differentiate between nominal, real, and relative price changes.

Beyond ignorance, there is incoherence. If prices are things to have opinions on, then high gas prices are "bad" because (among other things) they hurt "the poor"; yet, prices are never quite high enough because more people ride SUVs than public transit. So, if progressives' fondest dreams suddenly came true and they could actually fix prices, what would they do?

The only way out of that brain cramp is to consider their real agenda. Controlling prices are poor second to controlling people's choices directly. "Get people out of their cars," may soon be among the oldest of fools' errands. Or, treat Hummers like cigarettes; outright bans and/or full-blown campaigns, including half-truths, etc.

That approach, however, creates black markets (new ones for cigarettes all the time as politicians put the screws on smokes) and damages government's credibility, giving rise to increased cynicism, apathy, etc.

Bad policy choices typically create "crises" and the demand for fixes and more policies. Incoherence will do that.