October 2, 2009 4:15PM

Dancing on Cash for Clunkers’ Grave

My colleague Chris Edwards called the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program the “Dumbest Program Ever.” Given that Chris is familiar with more than a few dumb government programs, that’s quite a statement.

Today, the Washington Post provides more evidence that he might be right:

After the shopping binge inspired by the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” incentive program ended, U.S. auto sales plunged in September and the industry sunk back to the depths from which it started, figures released Thursday showed… The results raised doubts from some economists about the effectiveness of the $3 billion federal program as a stimulus.

Alan Blinder, a Princeton professor who was among the first to push an auto sales incentive program in the United States, doubted it provided much stimulus, in large part because it was in effect for only a month. “Most of the idea of any stimulus is to pull spending up from the future, but it doesn’t make any sense to design a program that only pulls up spending by one month,” said Blinder, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. “Why in the world would you make it a one‐​month program? The Germans didn’t do that. The British do that. When I designed a mock version of this I was thinking of it as a one‐​year or two‐​year program.

So, Professor Blinder, what happens to auto sales after your one‐ or two‐​year program disappears? Regardless of whether the programs lasts one month, three months, one year, or three years, when the “free” money from Uncle Sam goes away, the result is going to be the same.

Milton Friedman said “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” Let’s hope he’s wrong in the case of Cash for Clunkers.