Earlier this week I said that the recently-enacted cash for clunkers program encourages people to buy cars with "only slightly better" gas mileage than the "clunkers" they are trading in. Here's just how slight the difference is.
Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute:
Consider how easy it would be to game this giveaway program by using that $4,500 voucher to buy a big SUV or V-8 muscle car.
First of all, with Chrysler and GM dealerships folding, it should be easy to buy a mediocre Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber for about $10,000 more than the voucher.
What you do next is sell that boring econobox, even if you end up with $1,000 less than you paid—that still leaves you with $3,500 of free money, courtesy of taxpayers.
As this process unfolds, the flood of resold small cars will make it even harder for GM, Chrysler and Ford dealers to get a decent price for small cars, because of added competition from new cars being resold as used.
That’s their problem, not yours.
So, take the $9,000 net from reselling the crummy little car plus the $4,500 from Uncle Sam. Then use that $13,500 to make a big down payment on a used Cadillac Escalade, Toyota Tundra pickup or Corvette.
When you consider the scant "green" benefits, cash for clunkers starts to look a lot more like corporate welfare—helping out the car companies—than environmental policy.