The day after Ben Bernanke testified for the first time as Federal Reserve chairman before Congress, his textbook co-author called for substantially higher taxes on gasoline. Robert Frank, a Cornell University economist and co-author of "Principles of Economics," argued in his February 16 commentary that even free-marketers like the idea of hiking gas taxes to encourage alternative fuels. But Casual readers of the Times may not be aware of Frank’s criticism of the 2001 Bush tax cuts, nor of his donations to the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org in 2004.
According to the Federal Election Commission Web site, Frank — a resident of Ithaca, N.Y. — donated a total of $875 to the Democratic-leaning group, which ran numerous attack ads in the presidential election season against President Bush.
In his latest Times column, Frank offered "a policy that would deliver" on the promise of "major improvements in urban air quality, large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and substantially reduced dependence on Middle East oil," if only Congress approved "a $2-a-gallon tax on gasoline whose proceeds were refunded to American families in reduced payroll taxes."
A Free Market Project review of his recent "Economic Scene" commentaries revealed that, Frank is no free market advocate, but a critic of supply-side economics who have categorized tax cuts as wasteful "spending."
In a column published three days before Christmas, he portrayed tax cuts as wasteful spending, by returning to taxpayers money that, in his view, would be more better spent by government. "Paying more than the market rate is just one form of wasteful spending," by government, Frank said. "Another, often far more important, form is to pay a fair price for something that serves little purpose."
Frank went on in his Dec. 22, 2005, Times commentary to complain about luxury items wealthy New Yorkers buy, like expensive watches or lavish birthday parties for their children. He wrote that "there is little reason to expect large tax cuts for wealthy families to have resulted in a more efficient allocation of our nation’s scarce resources." He ignored the thousands of people employed in watch-making and party planning, instead complaining about less money government has to allocate to social spending like food stamps. Apparently, like most of the mainstream media, Frank believes government social spending is actually being cut, not increased.
"Sometimes a Tax Cut for the Wealthy Can Hurt the Wealthy," was the headline for a similarly-themed Nov. 24, 2005, commentary he wrote for the Times. In that column, the former Peace Corps volunteer dismissed the economic benefit derived from wealthy people spending tax savings on home purchases. "[T]ax cuts have led the wealthy to buy larger houses, in the seemingly plausible expectation that doing so would make them happier. As economists increasingly recognize, however, well-being depends less on how much people consume in absolute terms than on the social context in which consumption occurs," Frank wrote.
[cross-posted at FreeMarketProject.org]
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