Tag: cash for clunkers

‘Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong’

That’s the title of an upcoming FOX News Channel feature program with John Stossel, in which Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz and Director of Health Policy Studies Michael F. Cannon weigh in on some of the hidden, unforeseen, and unintended consequences of the attempts to deliver on promises our politicians make.

Politicians promised that:

  1. Cash for Clunkers would save the auto industry.
  2. Increasing the minimum wage would be good for the working poor.
  3. Title IX would end gender-based discrimination in college sports.
  4. Mega-construction projects like stadiums, arenas, and conference centers would create jobs.
  5. Changing the tax code would save small farmers and the environment.
  6. Credit card reform would save us from banking fees.
  7. Reforming the health care system would give us more affordable and more comprehensive care.
  8. Ethanol would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save the environment.
  9. Home ownership for all would be good for America.

And the #1 promise politicians made that went awry?

Tune in to FOX News Channel this Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern to find out. Use the #10Promises hashtag on Twitter during the program to follow the conversation.

Kindly note that while John Stossel’s programs normally air on the FOX Business Network, this feature program will appear on the FOX News Channel.

Cash 4 Clunkers Fails Again

In a new study, economists Atif Mian and Amir Sufi find that the government’s “cash for clunkers” program “had no long run effect on auto purchases.”

C4C was supposed to stimulate the struggling automobile industry – and thus the economy – by inducing people to purchase autos today that they might otherwise have purchased in the future. However, whereas the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors claimed that C4C “pulled forward” purchases that would have occurred five years into the future, Mian and Sufi found that it merely pulled forward purchases that would have been made in the next seven months.

From the study:

In the subsequent ten months after the program (September 2009 through June 2010), high clunker cities purchased significantly fewer automobiles than low clunker cities. By the end of March 2010, seven months after the program, the cumulative purchases of high and low clunker cities from July 2009 to March 2010 were almost the same. In other words, the relative impact of the program on high clunker cities was almost completely reversed in just seven months.

Mian and Sufi also looked at whether C4C had a positive effect on other aspects of the economy. The answer is pretty much “no”:

Cities with high CARS exposure show no noticeable difference in economic outcomes from before the program to after the program relative to cities with low CARS exposure. We also examine economic outcomes for cities that have a high number of employees working in the auto industry. There is some evidence that high auto employment share cities had a relative increase in employment after the CARS program, but there is no noticeable effect on either house prices or household defaults. We should caution however that the effect of CARS on employment in the automobile industry is difficult to separate from the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler in early 2009.

As we recently noted, short-term measures implemented by policymakers to “fix” the economy have introduced unwelcome economic distortions. For example, because auto purchasers benefiting from C4C were required to turn in their used cars for destruction, the supply of used cars decreased. The result is that prices of used cars increased, which has hurt low-income families and others struggling through the recession.

Policymakers should stop trying to “fix” economic problems with short-term gimmicks, especially since it was ill-advised government policies that facilitated the present economic downturn. Given that these “fixes” are only driving up already dangerous levels of debt, policymakers should reverse course and pursue policies that would facilitate long-term economic growth such as eliminating burdensome programs and regulations.

Government’s Unwelcome Economic Distortions

A couple of weeks ago, David Boaz discussed the Old Testament story in which the people of Israel ask Samuel for a king to rule over them. God’s instructions to Samuel can be summed up as “tell them to be careful of what you wish for.” David brought up the passage in the context of civil liberties, but the story’s lesson also applies to economic liberties.

Over the past eighty years, the public has become conditioned in times of crisis to turn to their rulers and demand that they “do something.” That the rulers had a hand in the crisis is all too often either unrecognized or it’s a secondary concern. As Robert Higgs demonstrated in his seminal book, Crisis and Leviathan, the rulers will willingly oblige the public and, in the process, come away with more power and control than they had prior to the crisis. Unfortunately, the rulers’ enhanced authority begets more crises in the future.

The latest chapter in this story is the economic downturn. Many of the “seeds” for the recession were planted by government. Regardless, the average citizen reflexively looked toward Washington to quickly fix the economy. The public’s limited patience meshes well with policymakers who are naturally inclined to operate on a short-term horizon (i.e., the next election). Therefore, policymakers responded with quick-fix measures with almost no regard to the long-term consequences.

The long-term economic problems caused by massive deficit spending and mounting debt are the most obvious. But as two stories in the news show, short-term measures implemented by policymakers to “fix” the economy have also introduced unwelcome economic distortions.

First, following the expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit, home sales have fallen off the cliff. The Christian Science Monitor asks: was the homebuyer tax credit the “scam of the century?” The program was riddled with fraud, some folks who were induced to purchase a house are already underwater or are headed in that direction, and the billions of dollars spent on the program did zilch for the long-term health of the housing market.

When one looks at ultimate beneficiaries of the tax credit, it’s easy to see why the CSM calls it a “scam:”

[I]n trying to fully understand why the government undertook such a useless and poorly calculated program, it’s important to recognize those who truly walk away from this policy in better standing.

Realtors, home builders and mortgage bankers… some of the most notable culprits of the housing bubble years… all walk away cleanly skimming the proceeds coming from the transactions of an estimated 2 million temporarily stimulated home purchases.

It should come as no surprise that these were the very same industry groups that worked tirelessly lobbying to enact this failed policy… it was a simple exchange… your tax dollars to their wallets.

Second, we go from “scam of the century” to the “the dumbest program ever.” The latter refers to the “Cash for Clunkers” program, which Chris Edwards submitted for nomination in August 2009. Chris cited numerous problems with the program, including that “Low-income families, who tend to buy used cars, were harmed because the clunkers program will push up used car prices.”

A senior editor at Edmunds.com tells a reporter from WIOD news radio in Miami that used-car prices are way up (h/t Radley Balko):

If buying a used car is among your cost-cutting measures… be prepared to pay up to 30-percent more than you did last year.

It is a simple case of supply and demand.

Trouble is … there are fewer used cars.

The cash-for-clunkers program took a bunch off the market.

Plus, Edmunds Senior Editor Bill Visnick says 5-million fewer new cars were sold last year…which pares down the used car supply even more.

As Radley sarcastically notes, you can’t blame those supposedly selfish limited government types for this one:

[W]e have a government program whose stated aim was to shore up huge, failed corporations by giving public money to mostly upper-income people that in the end will penalize low and middle-income people. But remember folks, it’s the libertarians—who opposed C4C—who are greedy corporatists who hate the poor.

There could be a silver lining in the cloud if more Americans start to realize that asking policymakers to quickly fix problems that government policies helped foster isn’t much different than asking the arsonist to put out the fire.

Monday Links

  • Michael Tanner says the difficult part of passing the health care bill has only just begun: “The bill must now go to a conference committee to resolve significant differences between the House and Senate versions. And history shows that agreement is far from guaranteed.”
  • Gene Healy on the new decade: “Yes, it was a rotten 10 years for America. But cheer up: Things aren’t as bad as they seem, and there’s a good chance they’ll get better.”
  • Will the market rise or fall? Richard Rahn: “The long-term outlook for the stock market is not good, and here is why. For the past 100 years, there has been an inverse relationship between changes in the size of government and the growth or decline in the stock market.”

Spending Our Way Into More Debt

Huge deficit spending, a supposed stimulus bill, and financial bailouts by the Bush administration failed to stave off a deep recession. President Obama continued his predecessor’s policies with an even bigger stimulus, which helped push the deficit over the unimaginable trillion dollar mark. Prosperity hasn’t returned, but the president is persistent in his interventionist beliefs. In his speech yesterday, he told the country that we must “spend our way out of this recession.”

While a dedicated segment of the intelligentsia continues to believe in simplistic Kindergarten Keynesianism, average Americans are increasingly leery. Businesses and entrepreneurs are hesitant to invest and hire because of the uncertainty surrounding the President’s agenda for higher taxes, higher energy costs, health care mandates, and greater regulation. The economy will eventually recover despite the government’s intervention, but as the debt mounts, today’s profligacy will more likely do long-term damage to the nation’s prosperity.

Some leaders in Congress want a new round of stimulus spending of $150 billion or more. The following are some of the ways that money might be spent from the president’s speech:

  • Extend unemployment insurance. When you subsidize something you get more it, so increasing unemployment benefits will push up the unemployment rate, as Alan Reynolds notes.”
  • “Cash for Caulkers.” This would be like Cash for Clunkers except people would get tax credits to make their homes more energy efficient. Any program modeled off “the dumbest government program ever” should be put back on the shelf. 

  • More Small Business Administration lending. A little noticed SBA program created by the stimulus bill offered banks an “unprecedented” 100 percent guarantee on loans to small businesses. The program has an anticipated default rate of 60 percent. Small businesses need lower taxes and fewer regulations, not a government program that perpetuates more moral hazard.

  • More aid to state and local governments. State and local government should be using the recession to implement reforms that will prevent them from going on another unsustainable spending spree when the economy recovers. Also, we need fewer state and local government employees – not more – as they’re becoming an increasing burden on taxpayers.

The president said his administration was “forced to take those steps largely without the help of an opposition party which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that led to the crisis, decided to hand it to others to solve.” Mr. President, nobody has forced you to do anything. You’ve chosen to embrace – and expand upon – the big spending policies that were a hallmark of your predecessor’s administration.

Today’s White House ‘Jobs Summit’

Today’s Politico Arena asks:

The WH Jobs Summit: “A little less conversation? A little more action? ( please)”

My response:

Today’s White House “jobs summit” reflects little more, doubtless, than growing administration panic over the political implications of the unemployment picture.  With the 2010 election season looming just ahead, and little prospect that unemployment numbers will soon improve, Democrats feel compelled to “do something” – reflecting their general belief that for nearly every problem there’s a government solution.  Thus, this summit is heavily stacked with proponents of government action.  This morning’s Wall Street Journal tells us, for example, that “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is proposing a plan that would extend jobless benefits, send billions in relief to the states, open up credit to small businesses, pour more into infrastructure projects, and bring throngs of new workers onto the federal payroll – at a cost of between $400 billion and $500 billion.”  If Obama falls for that, we’ll be in this recession far beyond the 2010 elections.
 
The main reason we’re in this mess, after all, is because government – from the Fed’s easy money to the Community Reinvestment Act and the policies of Freddy and Fannie – encouraged what amounted to a giant Ponzi scheme.  So what is the administration’s response to this irresponsible behavior?  Why, it’s brainchilds like ”cash for clunkers,” which cost taxpayers $24,000 for each car sold.  Comedians can’t make this stuff up.  It takes big-government thinkers.
 
Americans will start to find jobs not when government pays them to sweep streets or caulk their own homes but when small businesses get back on their feet.  Yet that won’t happen as long as the kinds of taxes and national indebtedness that are inherent in such schemes as ObamaCare hang over our heads.  Milton Friedman put it well:  “No one spends someone else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”  Yet the very definition of Obamanomics is spending other people’s money.  If he’s truly worried about the looming 2010 elections (and beyond), Mr. Obama should look to the editorial page of this morning’s Wall Street Journal, where he’ll read that in both Westchester and Nassau Counties in New York – New York! – Democratic county executives have just been thrown out of office, and the dominant reason is taxes.  Two more on the unemployment rolls.

Feds Giveth Jobs & Cars, Then Taketh Away Again

The bad news this morning on the impact of both the federal stimulus and the Cash for Clunkers program should not come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the history of government intervention in the economy.

New data that the jobs created by the stimulus have been overstated by thousands is compelling, but it’s really a secondary issue. The primary issue is that the government cannot “create” anything without hurting something else. To “create” jobs, the government must first extract wealth from the economy via taxation, or raise the money by issuing debt. Regardless of whether the burden is borne by present or future taxpayers, the result is the same: job creation and economic growth are inhibited.

At the same time the government is taking undeserved credit for “creating jobs,” a new analysis of the Cash for Clunkers program by Edmunds.com shows that most cars bought with taxpayer help would have been purchased anyhow. The same analysis finds the post-Clunker car sales would have been higher in the absence of the program, which proves that the program merely altered the timing of auto purchases.

Once again, the government claims to have “created” economic growth, but the reality is that Cash for Clunkers had no positive long-term effect and actually destroyed wealth in the process.

Right now businesses and entrepreneurs are hesitant to make investments or add new workers because they’re worried about what Washington’s interventions could mean for their bottom lines. The potential for higher taxes, health care mandates, and costly climate change legislation are all being cited by businesspeople as reasons why further investment or hiring is on hold. Unless this “regime uncertainty” subsides, the U.S. economy could be in for sluggish growth for a long time to come.

For more on the topic of regime uncertainty and economic growth, please see the Downsizing Government blog.