Obama bent on driving more troubling trend
Hernando TodayThe News Virginian,
Published: May 23, 2009
Published: May 23, 2009
Government helps in the manner of a gentleman pugilist, with a hand up and a fist to the face. American carmakers, as have some farmers, are learning to beware the first hand as much as the second. Consumers soon will get the lesson.
Having plucked billions of dollars from taxpayers' pockets to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, two of the Big Three and Too Big to Fail, President Barack Obama now has presented another gift, this one knuckles sheathed in brass taking form in a requirement that automakers produce cars that achieve average fuel efficiency of 39 miles to the gallon by 2016. Such stringency offends the rationality of even the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which last year resisted a lower standard, but not the Sierra Club.
Forgoing hope for change in which he believes, Obama aims for a refashioning of the U.S. auto fleet into one composed of hybrids and electric cars. This, he suggests, not only will reduce carbon emissions, pleasing the Sierras, it will aid in the weaning of Americans from their dependence on foreign oil. More likely it will wean Americans further from cars made in the U.S.
Once gas prices slipped below $3 a gallon after peaking at $4 last summer, Americans turned in droves away from the small, fuel-efficient cars Obama and his environmentalist backers favor. Now with Chrysler and GM prone on death beds gasping for air, Obama stands over them demanding they produce cars Americans don't want. Ford, stronger than the others, made no Faustian bailout bargains but must pay the same steep price.
To circumvent domestic consumers' inane proclivity for buying what they want (larger cars that are less fuel-efficient but safer) rather than what they should (electric cars with the feel, sound and size specifications of an electric razor, and the safety and comfort to match), Obama will have Americans simply spend more. Government will either send taxpayer-funded rebate checks to people who buy the cars of government's choosing, or gas taxes will be raised to push prices to last summer's levels and force buyers into hybrids and the like.
All of this should ring slightly familiar to farmers. Starting in the 1930s under President Franklin Roosevelt, government intervened on agriculture's behalf, bringing subsidies, price controls and a mounting wave of regulations. Modernity and the shift from an agrarian society has much to do with the corresponding trend, but so has government: The number of American farms since 1935 has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 6.8 million to roughly 2 million. Young farmers, whose ranks are thinning, list profitability and government regulations among their top three concerns, according to the American Farm Bureau.
Regarding the car industry, Obama appears bent on driving a more troubling trend, transforming Detroit's Big Three to a Big Zero. It was not enough for him that Congress already had decided to push up the mileage requirement, currently 27.5 mpg, to 35 mpg by 2020. Nor was he satisfied with the task he assumed shortly after taking office, of overseeing Chrysler and GM's restructuring in an ostensible attempt to avert bankruptcy. Chrysler since has declared and GM soon will follow.
He is bent on a larger agenda, an accelerated form of one that so far has produced few of the intended results. The federal government began instituting fuel-efficiency standards in the 1970s seeking, in part, to reduce foreign-oil dependence, which has tripled since. The second aim was to reduce carbon emissions. But the vehicles subject to the mileage regulations produce only 1.5 percent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, according the Heritage Foundation.
Washington frequently aids by punishing. Obama's latest move is to do more of this while an economy sits idle needing revving. Agendas, like the carbon-free heaven of the young president's dreams, should wait.