You know that famous scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where the people inside the restaurant by the gas station are just beginning to understand that the birds have got a mean streak? It’s an amazing piece of screenwriting that makes me think of tax holidays in America.
In that scene in “The Birds,” one woman, i.e. the expert, has been insisting that birds of different species don’t have the social network to work together to act aggressively against people. Another insists that the birds have gotten out of hand. Some stay calm, some are freaking out, some listen, some ask questions. Meanwhile, outside, the birds have been manipulating the scene and the people in the station are making all the wrong choices so things then go from bad to worse.
Now everyone in the restaurants sees that gas has been spilling from one of the tanks outside. And a man in the station, unaware of what’s going on, is lighting a cigarette and about to throw his lit match to the ground. The people, watching with horror as the scene unfolds, begin banging on the window to stop the man with the cigarette, but they’re now powerless, too far away to be heard.
I’ve thought of that scene a number of times of the past few weeks while reading about the fantabulous debt ceiling debate and the scary world view of presidential candidates. Overseas, we are all knocking on the window, but no one hears.
I’m also reminded of the 2008 presidential campaign when gas prices were rising and John McCain, reaffirming is right to say anything you want to hear, and Hillary Clinton, thereby securing her position in an Obama administration, declared that what the American people truly needed in times like that (which, gas prices aside, also happen to be times like these) was a holiday from the 18.4 cents federal gas tax.
I’m writing this today because I’ve just read that Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have gone ahead with their annual sales-tax holiday. Supposedly this favors of citizens with children in public schools who need to buy school supplies, but everyone can see—can’t they?—that at best it only favors a few big retailers who would otherwise reduce their own margins.
The cost of the sales-tax holiday to the budgets of those states is small potatoes, of course, representing no more than a few hundred jobs and a few new classrooms. What’s one little match?
From overseas we’re banging on the window.
Aug. 14, 2011.