Thursday, August 06, 2009


NY Times
August 5, 2009, 9:45 pm
Clunker Class War
by Tim Egan

My clunker was a ’64 Ford Galaxie, logging maybe eight miles to the gallon on level ground, the back seat burned to the coils by a knucklehead friend who left a cigarette to smolder. When it died, just short of 140,000 miles, everything went. Sold it for scrap and $50 — with the tow.

Today, I’d trade that dog on wheels in a New York minute for the upgrade, some smart mileage car that is one of the autos zooming off my neighborhood lot as part of the Cash for Clunkers program.

But according to a barnacled cluster of senators, this program must be sunk, now. It’s been far too successful — dealers have been swamped, people are lining up to buy cars that burn less gas and bring instant cash to crippled local economies.

This is old fashioned stimulus of a sort that Republicans have always advocated, using financial incentives to change behavior. Representative Candice Miller, a G.O.P. lawmaker — albeit from the car-dependent state of Michigan — called it “the best $1 billion of economic stimulus the government has ever spent.”

But look where the rest of Miller’s party is. Last week, Senator John McCain threatened to lead a filibuster rather than let Cash for Clunkers continue to September, as the House has agreed to do with an additional $2 billion from money already approved in the stimulus law.

He backed off this week, though he and other critics continued to treat Cash for Clunkers like swine flu with a steering wheel.

They hate it, many of these Republicans, because it’s a huge hit. It’s working as planned, and this cannot stand. America must fail in order for President Obama to fail. Don’t be surprised if the tea party goons now being dispatched to shout down town hall forums on health care start showing up at your car dealers, megaphones in hand.

But there’s another reason, less spoken of, for why some people get so incensed over little old Cash for Clunkers: it helps average people, and it’s easily understood — a rare combination in a town where the big money deals usually go down with packaged obfuscation.

The overall amount of money is paltry, to the government. But to a typical family, a $4,500 break on a new car with greater gas mileage is a big deal. Consider the extraordinary giveaways of your tax dollars that happened without serious filibuster threats by the protectors of free enterprise.

The granddaddy of them all, of course, was President George W. Bush’s $700 billion bailout of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street miscreants who helped to run the economy into the ground. As presented initially, remember, the bailout had to pass in a day or two, with minimal debate. Or else.

“The goal isn’t to control markets, but to revive them,” the Wall Street Journal editorialized at the time, backing perhaps the greatest reward for bad behavior in the history of capitalism.

Yet, when a tiny fraction of that amount went to strapped consumers this summer for their revival, The Journal jumped back on their Adam Smith pedestal, calling Cash for Clunkers “crackpot economics.”

Then there is the American International Group, the pariah A.I.G., now being kept afloat by the taxpayers to the tune of nearly $180 billion. This money from us to them didn’t sell any cars. It didn’t improve gas mileage. It didn’t help neighborhood businesses. It went to fortify an insurance giant that made terrible bets on complex securities and then threatened to bring us all down with them. McCain was there for A.I.G., no filibuster in his quiver.

And when it came out that some of those same corporate welfare titans would still be giving each other bonuses, former Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani rode to the rescue. Bonuses, he argued, trickle down to waiters, limo drivers, cafes that sell donuts to cops — cash for dunkers.

But try to give struggling families a one-time boost to buy a more fuel-efficient car, with an amount that wouldn’t pay for paper clips at A.I.G., and it’s … outrageous!

Reports from car dealers show that clunker stimulus has boosted show room traffic up to 200 percent. The most common vehicles being traded in, they said, are pickups and S.U.V.’s; the most popular replacements will save drivers more than $1,000 a year in gas costs.

Those who oppose this program on principle argue that government should not be choosing winners and losers in the marketplace, even in a down economy. But both parties have long used federal money for precisely that, intending to change society, in ways big and small. What was the G.I. Bill but the greatest escalator to the middle class for returning war veterans? Home mortgage subsidies allow millions of families to own their own house, benefiting realtors, drywallers, roofers and assorted contractors.

I don’t like that big agriculture gets rewarded for monopolizing rural economies while stuffing nearly every processed food with the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. I was against giving $35 billion in federal help for oil and gas companies over the next five years, as Republicans advocated during last year’s campaign.

For that matter, I hate to see small independent book stores disappear from the landscape.

But Cash for Clunkers is a bare slight against free market chastity. It’s simple stimulus, caught up in a much larger system that’s always been there for the big money players, but holds a much higher standard for anyone else.

Go to original article and comments


Poetcrab said...

Dear Lou, your Obama blinders are showing again. You wrote: The granddaddy of them all, of course, was President George W. Bush’s $700 billion bailout of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street..." but what you fail to address is that your candidate Obama was instrumental in getting these Bush bailouts to pass in Congress and since becoming president he has continued the practice to the tune of trillions of dollars. So when you write that Bush's bailout was the grandaddy you are incorrect Obama's holds that legacy now. And if you're going to criticize Bush for the bail-out I ask that you please be consistent in your politics and display similar criticism for Obama's bailout. If it was bad when Bush did it just because Obama does it too doesn't make it right. Please remove your Obama blinders and tell the whole truth.

Poetcrab said...

But don't just take my word for it, "Bloomberg financial news reported on March 31 [2] that the government had “spent, lent or committed $12.8 stem the longest recession since the 1930s.” The rescue-the-rich package at that time amounted to about 90 percent of the nation's GDP for 2008: $14.2 trillion. Only a small fraction of the money went to “stimulate” the non-financial sector of the economy. Five months later, in July, Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the U.S. Treasury, reported that taxpayers had committed to buttress the financial sector to the tune of $23.7 trillion [3] – 1.7 times last year's GDP!"

Lou Gold said...

Ooops, poet crab. Perhaps you are wearing the blinders? The piece was written by Tim Egan of the NY Times and not me.

hugs and good wishes as always,

Poetcrab said...

Lou, i see that you did not write that piece but that doesn't really matter the point is the information you're presenting is one-sided and you're not acknowledging Obama's hand in the bail-outs.

Lou Gold said...

Sure it's one-sided and I happened to like it at that moment. O is in trouble these days, maybe deserving and maybe not. The economy is still shaky. Maybe it will recover and it will be said that O was really smart, maybe it won't an he will be condemmed.

Meanwhile, I'll watch and toss forth things that I like at the moment. That's what blogging is about.