Column on Fallacies of the Clunker Program

Fallacies of the Clunker Program

Tibor R. Machan

Most have no time to consider the big picture so when the clunker program
comes their way, they think only of the immediate consequences. It all
reminds me of those horrible failed urban renewal government plans to raze
innumerable small city communities and built huge high rise apartments,
plans that Robert Moses of New York City pushed on New Yorkers all the
time, which the late Jane Jacobs, the brilliant theorist of city life,
opposed most of her life. But when you present the artist conception of
the new high rises it tends to look kind of cool and many people are
seduced by them.

Same with the clunker trade in program–I will just toss my old jalopy and
get me shiny new wheels. Never mind that the money you get from the
government will eventually come out of your or, especially, your
children’s and grand children’s pockets and the clunkers will end up in
some junk yard that will cost millions and millions to clean up.

It appears that the recent build up of a housing bubble hasn’t taught
people anything at all. Much of it was due to easy credit, credit folks
didn’t really have coming to them based on their actual financial
situation. To recover from this the bulk of the population would need to
go on an austerity program at least until after they paid off the debt and
got back into the financial saddle.

Instead of dealing with the matter with some patience and prudence, the
instant fix-it Obama regime simply reintroduced various ways once more in
which the country as a whole can go into massive debt, leaving the problem
to be dealt with by members of a future–and now non-voting–citizenry. It
is all still just as reckless as the many private accruals of credit had
been but now it is more cleverly disguised because members of the current
citizenry will not feel the pinch right away. It matters not at all to
these people that they are imposing immense burdens on those who have no
opportunity to accept or refuse them, not even by means of the democratic
method. Once again the principle of "no taxation without representation"
is flouted not only by violating it unabashedly but by not even
acknowledging this fact and trying, however feebly, to argue against it.

The clunker program is especially cynical. Most of us have no chance of
exploring the broader implications of current public policies–most of us
just try to live with them, make the most of them for purposes of managing
our current affairs. So if a politician engages in the massive violation
of elementary principles of justice and fair play while handing his
constituency resources confiscated from others–or "borrowed" from
helpless future voters–most will just accept it and make the most of it,
never mind how the process can progressively corrupt the system under
which we live.

The clunker program will seem like manna from heaven to a great many
people with old cars they wish they could trade in for newer ones on
favorable terms. Never mind that the precedence set or continued with the
program spells hardship for those who will be citizens in the future. They
cannot protest and no politician, nor anyone in the major media, is going
to bring up the matter since it is now and has been for decades quite
routine and deemed acceptable. Republicans do it, Democrats do it, so no
one on Meet the Press or the Op Ed pages of The New York Times or
Washington Post is going to write in opposition to it since bringing the
matter up for discussion will simply prompt one’s opponents to say, "Hey
but your party has been doing this for decades on end." Robbing Peter to
subsidize Paul is what welfare state politics is all about and both the
major parties are firmly committed to this system. All that is open for
discussion is how deeply the country ought to sink into the morass the
system creates.

I am not excusing ordinary folks for their eagerness to take advantage of
a something-for-nothing federal program but I do wish to point out that
such measures are by now so deeply entrenched in the country that one
would need to do some very searching thinking about political economy to
realize just how insidious it is. Few can devote the time needed to come
to terms with this, so they just roll with the punches. And sadly the
country lacks leadership in the mainstream that might remind folks of this

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