A clunker of a program

Published 9:42 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

The White House announced Friday that the Car Allowance Rebate System, more popularly known as the “cash for clunkers” program, will be able to continue at least through the weekend.

And so continues one of the most ill-conceived programs ever initiated by the federal government.

The program was designed to help the environment (by taking gas guzzlers off the road), to stimulate the economy (by bringing more people to auto dealerships, which have been hit hard during this recession), and to reduce economic inequality (by offering a rebate of between $3,500 and $4,500 toward the purchase or at least a five-year lease of a new vehicle).

Unfortunately, the program fails miserably on all three counts.

First, vehicles being traded in must be less than 25 years old. That means the real clunkers — those made in the ’60s and early ’70s, back when few people knew what OPEC was, Detroit didn’t make fuel-efficient cars and the public didn’t demand them — aren’t eligible.

Second, getting people to come to auto dealerships isn’t going to stimulate the economy. We’re in this recession because banks made too many bad loans to people who couldn’t repay them. Now the banks are being extremely conservative with their money, and loans are hard to come by. Think everyone who comes to the dealership is going to qualify for a loan or get one at an affordable rate? Think again.

Finally, the suggestion that the program will reduce economic inequality is laughable. Remember, the $3,500-to-$4,500 rebate is for a new car. That means that if you’re poor and you’ve been driving a clunker around for years because you have the good sense to know you can’t afford a new car (read that last paragraph again), this program is not going to help you.

The only thing the program has succeeded in doing is that is has burned through $1 billion of taxpayer money. Sadly, it looks like another $2 billion will be torched next.