Here’s one thing I don’t think has been grasped by the dissenters in the C4C business. You could have had everything that was even arguably good out of Cash for Clunkers without destroying the cars.
Want Keynesian demand-side stimulus? Offer consumers rebates on other goods. And don’t destroy the cars.
Want to reduce greenhouse gases? Buy solar energy credits. And don’t destroy the cars. (I say this, incidentally, as someone who is convinced that AGW is real, and that we had best figure out what to do about it.)
Want to bail out the auto industry? Give the auto makers those solar energy credits you just bought. And don’t destroy the cars.
There were, and are, plenty of people who could have used those cars we decided to scrap, the American poor not being the least among them. Pakistan just lately springs to mind. Why not keep an emergency fleet of cars on hand for evacuations in disasters? So what if they’re clunkers! You’re only using them once, maybe. Even this — a totally fanciful, purely imaginary use — might not be as bad as destroying the vehicles, assuming we could make the logistics work.
Now helpfully, some defenders of the program have reminded me that the cars mostly weren’t destroyed. Only the engines were really turned to scrap. The remainders were salvaged for parts. Okay, fine, not so bad then. Except that you’re presumably using all those parts to keep other clunkers on the road, and thereby reducing prices for keeping them around.
And this does sound like a frank admission that the popular notion of the program was a terrible idea. It’s also an admission that the real implementation of the program was just a half-assed approach to a terrible idea, one made possible only on the back of some gaping economic ignorance.
Most folks would have cheered anyway, even if these cars had gone straight to the compactor. Surely it would have been a hit on YouTube. Is this the sort of constituency the left takes pride in? Managed ignorance, indeed.
These cars, or rather their engines, emerge as a sort of ritual scapegoat. “GET THESE CARS OFF THE ROAD” is not an argument. It’s an incantation. These cars’ expulsion from the economy serves no discernible purpose, except that we’ve pinned a lot of economic and environmental woe on their tailpipes, and driven them ritually out of town.