Thursday, September 2, 2010

Majestic equality

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. - Anatole France

And to drive gas guzzlers.

Jeff Jacoby has written a critique of last year’s Cash For Clunkers program. There were a number of problems with this program but the one that stands out for me is the one caused by the environmental aspect of Cash For Clunkers. In order to help the environment, the program required the destruction of the (perfectly usable) cars traded in when new cars were bought. This has reduced the supply of used cars and driven up the price for people who want to buy one. According to Jacoby, there should have been no question who would benefit and who would suffer as a result:

No great insight was needed to realize that Cash for Clunkers would work a hardship on people unable to afford a new car. “All this program did for them,’’ I wrote last August, “was guarantee that used cars will become more expensive. Poorer drivers will be penalized to subsidize new cars for wealthier drivers.’’

I have written before about a government program - outlawing incandescent lightbulbs - that is saving the environment on the backs of those who can least afford it. As I said then, I do not think either Michael Crichton or Aaron Wildavsky would be surprised at yet another example of the truth of Wildavsky’s conclusion that:

resilience is a better strategy than anticipation, and that anticipatory strategies (such as the precautionary principle) favor the social elite over the mass of poorer people.

(Via Greg Mankiw)

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