Brian Caplan has a great NYTimes piece on why the Clinton/McCain gas tax holiday is a relatively harmless symbolic gesture in a sea of possible bad policy options:
The first is that the tax holiday is a relatively cheap symbolic gesture that makes truly bad policies less likely. The main causes of high gas prices are probably factors beyond our control, like rapid growth in China and India and low real interest rates. But voters don’t want to hear this; they want politicians to “do something!”
During our last big energy crisis, in the 1970s, “something” turned out to be a salad of populist nonsense: price controls, rationing, windfall profits taxes, arcane loopholes and lots of lawsuits. That political response turned an inconvenience into a disaster.
We can do better this time. Since in an election year Congress will feel compelled to show the voters that it feels their pain, let’s do something that at least keeps energy markets in good working order. The tax holiday fits the bill. Markets will adjust to it, no problem. And it won’t cost much — the estimated $9 billion in lost revenue is about $30 per person. That’s not a bad price to pay for a little insurance against a rerun of misguided ’70s measures.
I’m glad they’re letting some free-market "fundamentalists" into the NYTimes lately. Tyler Cowen, Brian Caplan and Alex Tabarrok are such a refreshing antedote to the incessant Krugmania we usually see.