Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

By The Numbers

Note: contents of this post is after the jump due to its political nature.

I was just noting to Jennifer yesterday a couple of days ago that my biggest frustration with the debate about Palin's transparent misrepresentations about earmarks is that they shouldn't even be the issue. The big lie here is that earmarks, for as vile as they may be, aren't going to actually make a difference to the country's fiscal situation. As I returned from a client site on Friday and fired up my RSS reader for the first time in a week, I found that (as usual) Mark Thoma is already on the case, aptly pointing out in a single post that McCain's "economic policy" prescriptions to date amount to little more than misdirection in the face of what can only be described as a foreclosure crisis, a market melt-down, a flagging dollar which threatens our unique position as the world's reserve currency, huge inflationary pressure due to moribund energy policy, and yawning fiscal deficits (which, yes, have a lot to do with an ill-advised war and deeply regressive tax cutting). The over-compensating assessment by Thoma is that 0.58% of the budget is directed toward earmarks. Will someone please wake me when McCain starts talking about spending priorities which might actually matter?

To see if the McCain campagin was just making hay over a perceived weakness of the opponent, I checked out John McCain's website for his economic "policy". You can't get very far in most of it before noting that it's all about oil and drilling. To wit, even when describing the need to "eliminate wasteful government programs" the McCain policy statement doesn't name a single program to be trimmed. Looking for a detailed set of policy priorities on the McCain site is a dead-end. The oft-repeated claim that a McCain administration's encouragement of drilling as a way to "send a signal to the market" regarding the price of oil is, by all industry accounts, laughable. As the graph (via Mark Thoma, via Grist) makes clear, drilling ain't gonna get us there either:

Claims regarding the encouragement of nuclear power generation capacity completely gloss over the complexities of permitting, time-to-build, and financing these projects, not to mention the as-yet un-finished business of long-term waste disposal, a topic that McCain himself seems to be of two minds about. Solar and other renewables actually have the property of being feasible on a much smaller scale, allowing them to be implemented gradually. For all intents and purposes, even if nuclear were cheaper per KW/hr (it's not), it would still be a risky capital investment (likely borrowed) for any utility – therefore the cost of servicing debt becomes a major factor in the ability for nuclear to take off. Why would any utility exec take the risk on a 5 to 10 yr project with a high likelihood of failure with many of the dominant costs of both construction and operation completely up in the air when you can just additively expand your capacity with solar or wind with lower up-front costs, no waste-disposal risk, and the potential to start producing in the 1-2 yr timeframe? And given this reality, why doesn't the McCain energy policy acknowledge that these alternatives need the same level of government support as drilling and nuclear? And why would McCain not do the easy thing and support the existing (paltry) support that the government offers to these incremental, renewable energy sources?

In reading the McCain policy statments, I'm left with a long list of things that a McCain administration will somehow accomplish without any credible details regarding how these goals will be met. The message here is that John McCain, through completely un-specified means, will meet all of the lofty goals outlined in his policy wish-lists (which, given the lack of detail, is what they amount to). Perhaps we're supposed to believe that his personal character and skill as a politician will somehow overcome the yawning credibility gulf of his statements and the reality that he'll be dealing with a Democratically controlled congress should he win. No politician should, in the heat of a campaign, box themselves in too far by promising specific agendas which they may not be able to deliver on, but the lack of coherent supporting details by the McCain campaign goes directly to the issues of candor and credibility. While I would have voted for him in 2000, there's no way that I can justify supporting a candidate now who is willing to push fairy tales about the economic realities and forces which drive our economy. Seriously, the McCain website still includes the much-derided "gas tax holiday" proposal. When high-school economics is enough to destroy the credibility of your policies, then you're either pandering (a form of lying) or are simply ignorant. What we've got here is not a failure to communicate by the McCain campaign, it's a failure to face reality head-on. It's voodoo economics all over again.

It's no wonder that the McCain campaign is trying to make this election about something other than issues...the senator's written-by-lobbyists policies just won't stand up to anything like the level of scrutiny that the Obama plans will. Is the Obama plan for the economy a slam dunk? No, but it's a damn sight better than McCain's fairy tales.