Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How do either have this authority?

I came across this CNNMoney article when writing last night's entry. How politicians willfully ignore the Constitution never ceases to make me sigh.

President Bush said, "I encourage [Congress] to give me that authority," referring to raising fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. I've looked through Articles I and II of the Constitution, and I can't find anything where Congress or the President are given the powers to effect changes of any kind on automobiles. Perhaps if President Bush could direct me to the appropriate clause, I'd feel better about him having the power to tell automakers what cars they can and cannot produce.

Scott McClellan claimed this will "save jobs, save lives and save fuel." Save jobs? At what cost? A local government could pay a burger joint $50,000 per year so it won't fire a counter clerk, which is saving the job. The White House is also assuming (or would like us to believe) that if auto workers aren't building fuel-efficient vehicles, they won't be doing anything else. Why wouldn't they be building other types of cars? Even if they can't build SUVs and trucks, they have to eat and live somewhere, so they'd find another line of work. So this idea that requiring higher fuel efficiency will "save jobs" is economic snake oil.

Save lives? This is the complete opposite of reality. There's only so much you can do to a big car to improve its gas mileage, so to meet fuel efficiency standards, automakers since the 1970s have made more and more cars smaller and lighter. People have died as a result, because they would have been safer in the larger cars of old. Modern safety features like side-impact airbags can help, but only so much. (This is one of the best reasons that teenagers' first cars should be big junkers.)

Several years ago, I had a very close shave. I was driving through flashing yellow lights, and some idiot came sailing through the intersection against flashing red lights. The front of my Neon hit the front right of his Mazda 626, and my car sustained enough damage to be declared a total. Had I entered the intersection a fraction of a second sooner, he'd have T-boned me from the left, and I would probably not be here today. I probably would have survived, albeit with injuries, had I been driving a solid car.

Save fuel? This is true, but at what cost? Though SUV sales are declining in the face of high gasoline prices, there are still people who accept lower fuel economy in return for safety, greater cargo space, greater comfort and/or their own vehicular preference. Others make similar trade-offs when buying large sedans or "gas-guzzler" sports cars. As Capital Freedom noted last October, prices are far more effective than any legislation or plea for conservation. Yet the feds, true to their nature, won't let the market work and instead throw everyone into a one-size-fits-all mold. Economic variables are naturally in a state of constant flux, but the central planners still try to hold a derived one (fuel economy averages) constant and subject people to the others' adjustment -- never mind that we each have our own preferences that determine our unique equilibriums.

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