Kevin Drum titles a post on providing government incentives for high MPG cars "Ending the Addiction," by which I presume he means addiction to gasoline. I really struggle with the point of view on life that describes consumer affinity for enormously value-producing technologies to be an "addiction." One could equally well refer to our preference for good health or prosperity to be an "addiction," particularly when fossil fuels have played such a central role in fueling the industrial revolution and the prosperity which it has brought. With the current jump in oil prices tied so closely to growing wealth in China, never has the tie between fossil fuel use and prosperity been more obvious.
Drum advocates for what he calls a "progressive" proposal:
For cars, the most effective thing would be a "feebate": In the
showroom, less-efficient models would have a corresponding fee, while
the more-efficient ones would get a rebate paid for by the fees. That
way when choosing what model you want you would pay attention to fuel
savings over its whole life, not just the first year or two. It turns
out that the automakers can actually make more money this way because
they will want to get their cars from the fee zone into the rebate zone
by putting in more technology. The technology has a higher profit
margin than the rest of the vehicle.
I will say that this is probably less bad than other "progressive" proposals I have heard, but the logic here is based on consumer ineptness. Higher gas prices, which drive higher lifecycle costs, are presumably providing exactly this incentive without any government program. The problem, it seems, is that progressives don't think very much of the common people they wish to defend. Just as the justification for Social Security is that the average person can't be trusted to make good decisions about their retirement savings so we elites will do it for them, this seems to be the logic here, but even more patronizing. Here is the best bit which really demonstrates the point I am making:
Here's a further suggestion: require stickers to list the estimated cost of fuel consumption over a five year period.
Basically this calculation is total estimated miles per year divided by mpg times estimated gas prices times five. A simple piece of math with four numbers that can be completed on a calculator in 10 seconds or by hand in less than 30 seconds. Mr. Drum, a big supporter of our current monopoly government school system, apparently does not think that people educated in this system can do this math for themselves. Could it be clearer that "progressivism" is really about disdain for the common man and a belief that elites should make even the smallest decisions for them?