John Stossel

The economic illiterates in Washington are so impressed with the "success" of Cash for Clunkers that they're readying Cash for Clunker Appliances. The ludicrous "stimulus" bill gave $300 million to the Department of Energy to provide rebates for 10 types of appliances that have been rated energy efficient.

Before government extends Cash for Clunkers to more products, it might be a good idea to examine the original. The fact that Washington and the buyers who took advantage of Cash for Clunkers are gaga is hardly evidence that it was in the public interest.

It wasn't. As usual, the program has been judged only by its first and most visible consequences, violating Henry Hazlitt's teaching in his classic, "Economics in One Lesson":

"The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

If you only look at the immediate effects, Cash for Clunkers appears pretty good. People traded in gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient new cars. The program cut carbon emissions slightly and gave the auto industry a boost.

"Manufacturing plants have added shifts and recalled workers. Moribund showrooms were brought back to life, and consumers bought fuel-efficient cars that will save them money and improve the environment," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood bragged. "American consumers and workers were the clear winners thanks to the Cash for Clunkers program."

But wait. Shouldn't that be some consumers and some workers? And only in the short run?

Let's start at the beginning. The government paid car owners to trade in their old cars, which will be destroyed. But the government is running a deficit. So it doesn't have $3 billion to hand out. It must borrow the money, which reduces the amount of money for other investments. Moreover, the government must raise taxes in the future to pay back the principal and interest -- or the Federal Reserve will monetize the debt through inflation. Either way, we pay.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate