I note that President Obama took on corporate jets five or six times in his press conference. Evidently he wants voters to think that changes in the depreciation schedule for corporate jet aircraft will go a long ways toward cutting the federal budget deficit. I doubt that voters are so naive. “Corporate jets” may get a negative response in some focus groups—I gather that’s why Obama kept returning to the theme—but I doubt that voters generally care much about them one way or the other.
There are, however, two groups in our society who are familiar with private jet travel but are unable to use it very often, much to their chagrin. They are: (number one—I spell out the number because of Microsoft Word’s irritating insistence on altering paragraph structure when you use numerals) members of Congress and (number two) members of the press. I had that thought back in the weeks after the November 2008 election when the CEOs of the three Michigan-based auto companies flew into Washington on their corporate jets seeking help from the federal government. Of course they would have been well advised to fly commercial just that once. Helpful staffers could have pointed out that Detroit’s Metro Airport has the most beautiful air terminal in the country and that flights from there to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport take only 59 minutes in the air and get you a lot closer to the Capitol and downtown Washington than do private planes to Washington Dulles. And you might get a chance to schmooze members of the Michigan delegation on the flight. But I fear that any staffer who advised a CEO to forego the corporate jet would get dressed down pretty sharply, would be reminded how many thousand dollars an hour the CEO’s time was worth and would not be invited to the next meeting if indeed he still had a job. CEOs can be really dumb sometimes: it evidently did not occur to any one of the three if they were coming to Washington to seek a handout, traveling by corporate jet would hugely irritate members of Congress and members of the press.
But back to Obama’s proposal, such as it was. If Congress should actually change the depreciation rules for corporate jets—rules that were set by the Obama Democrats’ own 2009 stimulus package—and it had any effect at all, the costs would be borne not by clueless CEOs or other high executives, but by comparative little guys: the pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and ultimately the folks that work the assembly lines at small jet aircraft factories. That’s what happened when Democrats in 1990 thrust a big tax on yachts over a certain size. The rich people who could afford them weren’t inconvenienced, but the folks in Maine and other places who build large boats lost their jobs. As a result, Democrats scrambled to repeal the tax. CEOs are not the only people who can be really dumb sometimes.