Checking the math in RI GOP Senate candidate Barry Hinckley's "economics for 5-year-olds" campaign spot

Citizen journalist John McDaid looks at RI Republican Senate candidate Barry Hinckley's campaign spot in which Hinckley's five-year-old son gives a lecture on economics and gas prices. The spot resulted in some pretty weird stuff (McDaid describes the "bizarre followup interview he and his son gave with Fox's Neil Cavuto, where Hinckley appeared to be lip-synching his son's responses like Fats in Magic"), but really takes issue with the frankly misleading gas-price chart shown in the ad.

I can understand that a five-year-old doesn't know enough to label both the axes, or make sure his line crosses the origin. And, granted, I'm a bit of a chart geek (after all, I slammed the chair of the Portsmouth School Committee for showing a chart with a distorted Y axis). But that's just not what the shape of the line looks like, either in outline or detail. Based on numbers from the US Energy Information Administration, it should look like this chart over here.

Economics for five-year-olds; data visualization for adults


  1. I actually was around this guy briefly.  Apparently the owner of my favorite coffee shop digs this guy, so he had a campaign event here one evening.  Anyway, he was advocating the reduction in government regulations.  So I emailed his campaign for his position on software patents (which I consider a form of regulation), and they never got back to me.   When they couldn’t even be bothered to respond, that’s when I pretty much lost interest.

    1. I always mentally add “that hinders big money becoming bigger” to the  “reduce government regulations”. Sadly, for most it is read as government not telling them how to live their lives no matter how long term destructive it may be for anyone within sight of them…

  2. Guess what kid (and dad), the price of gas is always going to go up.  It may drop down a little lower now and then, but by next year it will be higher, and 10 years from now it will be even higher.  When I was a kid in the 70’s it was 59 cents a gallon.  It’s never going to be that cheap again.  It’s never going to be $2 a gallon either.  I don’t care if we “drill, baby, drill” in every single backyard, it still won’t be abundant enough to be cheap as dirt.  Come up with an energy policy that circumvents petroleum altogether, or stop complaining.

  3. If you plot the U.S. price of gas in dollars per mile adjusted for inflation, it’s generally gone down for the last hundred years or more.  Yes, it’s had its peaks during wars, the oil crisis of the 1980s and such, but it’s generally a smaller percentage of income in recent history than it was decades ago.  In 2011 dollars, gas cost $3.75 a gallon in 1918, and the fleet mileage was lower than it is today.  (The attached image is adjusted for inflation only, not fleet mileage.)

    The Federal Gas tax (18.3 or 18.4 cents per gallon)  hasn’t changed significantly since 1993, almost two decades, and that is not tied to inflation.  It’s no wonder our transportation infrastructure is crumbling.  

    U.S. gas is cheap by most world standards, and in this atmosphere, developing more fuel efficiency or alternative fuels has been horribly delayed.  Personally, I’d gladly have the gas tax doubled or more if the money went into repairing bridges, roads and such and generally supported next generation transportation technologies.

    Peak oil will come, and I’d rather this country be prepared when it happens.  I agree with ill lich, I doubt we’ll see gas prices come down again, even accounting for inflation.  Improved efficiency and alternative fuels are the only way forward.

  4. The recent rise in the cost of gas in the US has nothing to do with supply/demand.
    OPEC is producing more product than global demand, US refineries are exporting record amounts of refined product, and gas demand in the US is the lowest it has been in decades.

    Under the cover of unrest in the Middle East, Wall Street speculators have bought 33 times the amount of the world supply of oil, driving up the price in the futures and derivatives markets.  

    If the Justice Department announces an investigation into this, the price will drop.

  5. Surely this is about a Senate candidate manipulating the numbers (and arguable his 5 year old) to win votes rather than whether gas is more expansive than ‘when I we’re a lad’? 

  6. If you take the two upward ramps in the actual price chart and superimpose them, you get the idea that Bush and Obama have had nearly identical effects on the price of gas. The lame-duck period in late 2008 resulted in a dramatic price drop, though.

    Conclusion: We need a lame-duck president all the time!

  7. The prospects don’t look good for us getting politicians that can avoid the cheap pandering, and actually talk about the serious issues. Peak Oil and Climate Change are real, and together mean that we have to start paying the real price of gas sooner or later. Is anyone in the senate asking the hard questions about how we manage an orderly transition away from fossil fuels? Or is our entire political system basically useless?

  8. I’ve been thinking this quite a bit lately. How everyone is bitching about the price of gas being so high, as if it’s a new record or something. Here in central TX (Austin) I’m seeing about $3.70 for mid-grade at the moment, but I can remember paying over $4 previously (around summer 2008, according to the chart above) so I don’t get the myopia (or just plain lying) of the right, trying to act like this is all unheard of. Idiots.

  9. This ad offers no solutions.  It makes no proposals.  It points out that inflation exists and then leaves it there.

    I was confused by this presentation.  I didn’t know what it was trying to sell.  Does that mean I’m stupider than a 5-year-old?

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