When Government Works

Conservatives often moan about the inefficiency and waste that comes with big government. A lot of times they have a point; government can sometimes be mindnumbingly bureaucratic (or far worse). Anybody who’s had a bad experience with the DMV can probably attest to this.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that every single government program is evil. The “Cash-for-Clunkers” rebate program is a prime example of an effective, helpful government program.

As envisioned by its writers, the program had two goals: 1st, to revive auto sales badly hit by the recession (helping GM and Chrysler); 2nd, to encourage customers to buy fuel-efficient cars, thus improving energy security and the environmnt. A customer would get a several thousand dollar rebate for trading in an old car and then buying a new, more fuel-efficient car.

To date, the program has proved an enormous success. Car sales have risen measurably “to their highest pace in 11 months”. Admittingly, sales at GM and Chrysler are still declining – but the decline is the smallest this year. Moreover, the new cars that are being bought are far more fuel efficient than mandated by the terms of the rebate.

In fact, “Cash-for-Clunkers” has been far more successful than hoped for. So many new cars have been bought that the funds behind the program have run out. One would expect more funds to be renewed with fierce urgency. Who wouldn’t want such an effective program to be discontinued?

Unfortunately, the Senate has been mysteriously tardy in approving more funds. In fact, the reason is not that mysterious. Part of it is that many fiscal conservatives feel very uncomfortable “feeding the monster.” Part of it is just the Senate’s innate sluggishness.

I think many conservatives are wrongheaded in their dislike of this program. Not all government is bad. A number of government programs – NASA, the military, acid rain regulations – have proven to be effective and useful. “Cash-for-Clunkers” is one of these. Maybe the majority of government is indeed bad. But it’s stupid to be against the good parts.

Moreover, the program’s design involves very little bureaucracy. The government isn’t directly involved; it’s merely an intermediary that advances money. “Cash-for-Clunkers” is also very simple. An average person can understand how it works in less than a minute. If there’s any government program a conservative could get behind, it’s this one.

I expect that the Senate will approve “Cash-for-Clunkers” before the end of the week. It would be a damned shame if it didn’t.

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