Saturday, August 08, 2009

America's car-centric short-sightedness clunking along

Now that the US taxpayer's own a good portion of GM, the thought is we should subsidize the purchasing of cars. The justification for this is that handing car owners $4500 to trade in vehicles for those with better mileage is that fewer oil will be consumed. The problem with this is that it perpetuates the belief that "all Americans must own cars." The very notion of not owning a car is still regarded as suspect, and peraps even un-American. Yet more Americans will need to abandon their cars for our nation to transform to a lower energy society.

Oil is at half what it was a year ago ( $71 a barrel ) , but we are also in the worst recession since the 30s. Once the economy begins to pick up again, the price of oil will skyrocket again. Anyone that is car dependent will be whining for even more car-centric subsidies like the cash-for-clunkers program, but for oil.

Yet, the much touted "cash-for-clunkers" program is a measly $7 subsidy per taxpayer. At $4500 per clunker, that comes to one beneficiary per 643 taxpayers. Right now this is very cheap and has received a lot of hype. Unless Congress decides to throw more money at this car-centric program, it will run out again within weeks. And if the majority of taxpayers want a bite at this program, it would take a significant portion of the Federal budget. And how can a car
-subsidizing program end our addiction to oil when none are electric?

Naturally, Republicans are starting to oppose this program. Governor Tim Pawlenty also opposes the clunkers program because it takes many used vehicles out of the market. He believes this will hurt the poor who could have used the cars currently being recycled. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas also opposes because it will further burden future generations with pointless debt. And interestingly, Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy voted against more clunker money because he did not see enough evidence the program was working.

One argument conservatives make against building more transit is that they could just spend the money buying cars for everyone. This argument is pointless for those who are too young/old to drive, cannot afford gas/repairs/insurance, and who care about our environment. Yet, altering their argument, one might say about the clunkers program: why not buy everyone bikes?

A "cash-for-rusters" program. Trade in any working vehicle or rusty bicycle for a shiny new bike. This would greatly reduce oil consumption and cost far less per beneficiary than the clunkers program. It would appease conservatives railing against wasteful spending because it is cheaper. Environmentally bikes clearly use less gasoline to produce than even the most energy efficient vehicle. America needs a pro-bicycle program, not more car-centric subsidies.

( Top image produced by Ken Avidor )