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Coming to Your Garage: Le Car

The trouble with the government's new automobile emissions and efficiency standards

David Harsanyi
May 20, 2009

Finally, Americans can start moving forward—albeit in small, unsafe, state-mandated, subsidized pieces of junk.

We all remember a time when we drove around in nearly any variety of automobile desired. Well, thank goodness we're getting past that kind of anarchy.

Rejoice, my fellow citizens, in the forthcoming automobile emissions and efficiency standards, even if they happen to add more than $1,000 to the cost of your average car.

Just consider it charity or an "investment." Needless to say, you might as well pony up the dough; your tax dollars already are keeping the auto industry afloat.

Then again, despite my profound appreciation for all the decency being showered upon me, it is difficult not to marvel at the demagoguery and corruption that's employed to get it done. Take this supposed coming together of California, the United Auto Workers, Washington, and the auto industry in support of stringent new standards that would cut an entire 0.05 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States government, if you haven't noticed, owns the auto manufacturing industry, props up the last vestiges of "labor," and soon will bail out the failed state of California. So this harmonizing of disparate interests is what a gracious person might call a "conflict of interest" and an honest person refers to as "racketeering."

Let's, for a moment, stretch the limits of our imaginations and make believe that a Republican candidate won the most recent presidential election. Let's pretend he or she continued the Bush administration's policy of bailing out Detroit, as Obama has done. Imagine, then, that all of these state-backed parties came together to "support" legislation mandating the increased production of SUVs.

Surely, and appropriately, there would be mass indignation about this unholy coupling of business and government. Well, the sleazy process we're witnessing now is the same—even if this particular outcome happens to please you.

In the future, American automakers may have the capacity to create competitive fuel-efficient cars that most of us actually would want to drive. They may not. But as we all have witnessed, today failure is not an option. So no matter how poorly these cars perform, no matter how ridiculously overpriced or unsafe they may be, Washington (or, rather, you and your progeny) will prop them up.

While at one time, the push and pull between environmentalists and business interests led us to some middle ground on public policy, there is now hardly any opposition. It has been purchased with tax dollars.

Though using California's tough fuel-efficiency standards for the entire nation (and hasn't that state excelled?) brings some certitude to Detroit, why would the auto industry suddenly change course and drop its opposition to onerous regulations?

According to Forbes magazine, less than two years ago Chrysler officially put the cost of meeting similar standards at $6,700 per vehicle. Cerberus, which is a private equity firm, threatened to walk away from the auto giant because the new requirements would have meant the end of Chrysler.

Yet yesterday, there he was, the Chrysler CEO, with a gaggle of other paid-off shills at a Rose Garden news conference falling in line with President Barack Obama.

You may argue that this is what we voted for. But when we look at the decisions people make with their own dollars—rational, discriminating, and "selfish" decisions—we learn something quite different. You don't buy the kinds of small cars that government is demanding that Detroit start producing. Rather, you make trade-offs in efficiency, comfort, and safety.

You may take into consideration—though cars continue to get safer—a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study, which stated that vehicles following the Corporate Average Fuel Economy system's standards contribute to between 1,300 and 2,600 traffic deaths every year. How many lives will be lost to new government mandates? Who knows?

Then again, it's not something you need to trouble yourself about. It's called sacrifice. And you have no choice.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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