Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I have to say that I was (almost) at a loss for words when I saw that the Obama Administration chose this time to almost double the never-a-good-idea CAFE standards.  Mandate new product and (somehow) that's what people will buy.  Not a huge problem, of course, in a world of auto industry bail-outs.  But the WSJ's Holman Jenkins has plenty of words.

Praying for the insanity to blow over is the auto industry's strategy for dealing with the Obama administration latest urge to double down on fuel economy mandates. Auto makers, wishing to appear deferential to the government that bailed them out, only plead that any new targets be ratcheted up slowly so future administrations will have plenty of chance to repeal the rules before they take effect. ...
If ever a president seems to have learned nothing from the times he's living in, Barack Obama is it. Economies around the world are foundering from an accumulation of policy excesses produced by the sort of straight-line, robotic thinking he's applying to so-called corporate average fuel economy rules.
If more money for less work is popular, thought Greece, twice as much money for half as much work will be even more popular.

If 64% of Americans owning their own homes is a good thing, thought Bill Clinton, 67% is better. If 67% is good, thought George Bush, 69% is better.

If forcing auto makers to build cars that deliver an average of 35.5 mpg is good, believes Mr. Obama, forcing them to deliver 56.2 is even better.

Engineering is absent. Any appreciation of the law of diminishing returns is absent. Sean McAlinden of the authoritative Center for Automotive Research recently pointed out that many of the materials needed for ultra-high-mileage vehicles would outstrip current world production several times over.

Asking consumers, meanwhile, to bear the cost of fuel-economy improvement they don't value will cause them to keep their old cars on the road longer. And in pursuit of what benefits? If we junked every gasoline-powered car and truck in America, it would have no appreciable impact on global carbon dioxide. If, as Mr. Obama intends, we switch to electric cars, those cars would be powered by coal, so the alleged atmospheric dividend will be doubly elusive.

The idea that we would save money by not buying oil, even if the alternative energy is more expensive, is the protectionist fallacy in modern cloak. The idea that we'd save money on wars and military adventures is the kind of Hollywood oversimplification that history can be counted on promptly to gut.

If his goals were rational and important, Mr. Obama would pursue them rationally—asking Americans for permission to tax gasoline to incentivize purchase of high mileage cars. He does not. Early in his administration, he gave a speech delineating the goal of one million electric cars on the road by 2015. He liked the round number. He liked the Kennedyesque ring. Now his bureaucrats are pursuing that goal as mindlessly as his predecessors pursued an increase in the rate of homeowning, because they liked the sound of it. ...
In the end, only a psychiatrist might explain this urge to pile up new policy excesses, destined someday to blow up in our faces, in an age when history clearly calls us to confront past excesses. But Mr. Obama is not deep. His presidency has been a presidency of shibboleths, of endless boasts that he's delivering on the bien-pensant slogans that others just mouth. ...
This is all hard to grasp.  This stuff appeals to anyone so in love with "green" that they stop thinking.  Carbon taxes would be the vastly superior policy. 

Is the Administration so anxious about a tax approach that they embrace CAFE nuttiness instead?  Do they fear that the tax would have to be susbtantial -- and/or ratcheted up for many years?  Are they so eager to pander to the command-and-control crowd that they throw common sense to the winds?  Are they simply true believers in the righteousness of their cause?  Are they enthralled by regulatory visions (and their own capacities as regulators)? 

I suspect that it is all of the above.  It suggests that sending the Best and the Brightest to Washington is perilous.  There are many dunderheads on the right, but will we have to choose between the arrogant ignorant and the just plain ignorant?