Clunkering Down

This article appeared in the American Spectator on August 28, 2009.
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"Cash-for-Clunkers" is over. Finally, a successful governmentprogram. Offer people $3 billion to buy new cars, and wonder ofwonders, they rush to grab the $4500 checks. Uncle Sam had toshut down the program early since it ran out of money. PresidentBarack Obama called the initiative "successful beyond anybody'simagination."

But now some in the auto industry are worried about theinevitable drop in sales, since the cash giveaway caused mosteveryone — at least, anyone interested in free money — toaccelerate their purchase plans. Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of theautomotive research group Edmunds.com, observes: "Nice party, butthe hangover is awful."

There's also an impending downturn in the auto repair industry.Fewer used cars to sell and service. Fewer parts to trade.Moreover, there have been and will continue to be fewer othergoods and services sold. After all, if you rushed to buy a newcar, there's a good chance you had to put off some otherpurchases.

The green eyeshade folks among us say the government shouldn'twaste money like this in the future. But in the newultra-Keynesian, post-budget deficit age, we need to thinkoutside of the box. We need to expand the ambit of"Cash-for-Clunkers."

Let's start big. The housing market remains in the doldrums.There's a huge inventory of new and used homes pressing downprices, an excess capacity that threatens to flood the market atthe faintest price uptick, and a lot of old, energy inefficient— and sometimes ugly — older dwellings. So why not a housing"Cash-for-Clunkers" program? Trade in your old, environmentallypoor house for a brand new, energy efficient home and get avoucher for the value of your current property, plus $50,000. Thedeveloper would be responsible for putting the wrecking ball toyour old residence; the government would keep the land forsubsequent resale.

Then there should be "Cash-for-Clunkers" for home furnishings.Uncle Sam should pass out checks to anyone who trades in hiswasteful furnace, heat pump, air conditioner, fan, washer, dryer,fridge, oven, dish washer, microwave, toaster, can opener, coffeemaker, television, DVD player, radio, CD player, light, vacuumcleaner, computer, or other home appliance. (There's currently amodest rebate program, with no trade-in requirement, for somemajor new appliances. We need to think more creatively.) Sellerswould render the goods inoperative while the federal government,in another job-creating program, would collect and dispose of thetrade-ins.

With the rise of the Kindle, online books are now a reality. Sowe need a "Cash-for-Clunkers" program for wasteful old books,which have occasioned the death of so many trees. Buy a Kindleand get a $20 check for every book you turn in while purchasingthe new online version. Amazon.com would be responsible forcreating central collection points, where you would dump yourbook, after tearing it in half to render it unusable. A similarprogram should be undertaken for newspapers — buy the Kindle andcancel your New York Times/WashingtonPost/Local Mullet Wrapper subscription, and get acheck.

"Cash-for-Clunkers" also could be adapted for the antique andcollectibles markets. A great deal of money, time, and resourcesare wasted as people visit antique shops and troll online forgoods produced long ago and therefore the production of whichcreates no jobs today. Turn in your antique painting, chess set,silver service, china cabinet, stein, armoire, jewelry, and more,and the government will pay you the value of your item plusprovide a voucher for ten percent of the purchase price of amodern replacement. Uncle Sam would take title of the goods, forpossible display at the Smithsonian. Constructing several newbuildings to house the government's new acquisitions wouldgenerate additional jobs.

There also should be "Cash-for-Clunkers" for old clothes andshoes. Who knows how many leisure suits still clutter up oldclosets? Think of all the out-of-style dresses that women hangonto, hoping that the clothes will come back into fashion. Turnin those tattered Bermuda shorts and sadly aged pumps and get acheck to buy replacements. Not only will jobs be created, butAmericans will leap ahead of Europeans to lead the fashionparade.

The "Cash-for-Clunkers" concept could be used for airplanes. Withthe downturn in air travel there is a surplus of older, lessfuel-efficient aircraft. Orders for new planes have been reducedas a result. The government should provide a (large) checkwhenever an airline trades in an old aircraft for a new(preferably Boeing) plane. The discards could be used by thePentagon for target practice. We'd have a stronger nationaldefense as well as less pollution, reduced fuel consumption, andmore jobs.

Finally, "Cash-for-Clunkers" could be used to eliminate thebuild-up of old, fatty, and calorie-filled snack products incabinets and refrigerators across America. Bring in your potatochips or M&Ms and get a check for their value, plus a couponfor use towards the purchase of apples, carrots, or Brusselssprouts. Surrendered foods would be given to the Surgeon Generalfor use as part of a broad-ranging educational campaign againstobesity.

The end of the "Cash-for-Clunkers" program bespeaks a lack ofvision. Paying people to destroy their old cars was a stroke ofgenius. Let's expand it to the rest of the economy.

And why stop with economics? Let's also apply the concept toCapitol Hill. Toss out your clunker of a congressman and then —and only then — get some federal pork for your district. Talkabout a "Cash-for-Clunkers" program that would benefit America!