The White House story making the rounds today is intended to reassure Americans that President Obama is seeking real business-friendly advice from two titans of American industry, Warren Buffet and Ford CEO Alan Mulally. But your Spidey-sense should be tingling. Why would President Obama choose those two specific leaders and seek out their advice? Is he really seeking out their advice, or signalling his policy intent when he offers his jobs outline next month?
Well, both Buffet and Mulally have called for tax hikes, even as the recession has worsened. Buffet has loudly called for tax hikes on the rich. And Mulally has called for tax hikes on gasoline, as far back as 2009.
Mr. Mulally was a guest recently at this newspaper’s ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara, where he outlined his efforts to revamp the struggling car maker. He said one problem is that America didn’t have an “integrated energy policy.” On the one hand, the government “regulated” smaller cars by “mandating average fuel mileage improvements,” but on the other hand “with low fuel prices and low interest rates over the years, the U.S. consumers have chosen generally larger vehicles.”
Mr. Mulally offered his own solution to the mismatch, artfully explaining that we needed to “involve the consumer in our energy policy.” In case anyone missed his point, Michael Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto dealer in the country, was more explicit: “Mr. Mulally said it very elegantly last night and I will say it more straightforward. We need more expensive gasoline.”
While last year’s energy spike briefly encouraged small-car sales, Mr. Jackson complained that those sales have plummeted with gas prices. “I have fuel-efficient vehicles parked at my dealerships as far as the eye can see. I can’t give them away.” He figures a tax that guarantees a gas-price floor of $4 a gallon is a “good start.” Mr. Mulally, for his part, talked about how good Ford’s sales of small cars were in Europe, and that “one of the reasons is that gasoline and diesel is somewhere between seven and nine dollars a gallon.”
So there’s no mystery here at all: Obama rang up Buffet and Mulally because the three of them already agree: We should tax our way out of the recession and out of debt. Mulally’s tax idea is particularly selfish; he wants you to be forced to pay more for gas so he can sell more small cars. That may stimulate Ford sales, but at the expense of laying an enormous drag on the economy.
Obama is not looking for fresh advice on how to get the economy going because he is looking to strike out in a new direction, he is just looking for a chorus to back up what he already wants to do to us. Obama is also avoiding hearing from the anvil chorus of CEOs who oppose his failed policies.