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Hello from 34,000 Feet

August 4th, 2009 . by economistmom

virgin-america-interior

I’ve always wanted to be so “tech savvy” that I’d be blogging from an airplane. Well, here I am! I’m on a Virgin America flight (coolest airline ever) from DC to San Francisco–going to give a talk out there for my Concord Coalition work, and then spending a few days with friends and family and bringing my 16-year-old daughter back from her five-week art school pre-college program.

But while I’m here, let me point out Stan Collender’s intriguing column in today’s Roll Call (copied here on his blog).  Stan says the “Cash for Clunkers” program is like a new (pretty sneaky) federal entitlement program.  Some of his points sure hit close to (my) home:

I’ll leave it to others to debate the environmental and economic benefits of the program. But from a budget perspective, the critically important point here is that, when faced with the option of saying the fiscal equivalent Roberto Duran’s “No más,” many of those who in theory want to do something about the deficit and were in a position to make it happen instead demanded that additional funds be provided. The discretionary program that had been enacted with a specific dollar limit on what could be spent quickly became the equivalent of an entitlement with anyone who qualified being allowed to participate…

At most this is a reconfirmation that very little has really changed in the budget debate. Even those who over the past few months have been routinely and resoundingly criticizing the federal deficit as being too high are willing to tolerate it being even higher if they personally benefit from the spending increase or tax cut being considered. It’s still everyone else’s subsidies, benefits and tax reductions that are questionable…

Here’s the additional clunker-related information we need to know to get the full picture.

First, it almost goes without saying, but let’s see if the cash for clunkers program is extended again when, if it’s appropriated, the next $2 billion runs out.

Second, by state and Congressional district, it would be good to know how many people take advantage of the program. My strong suspicion is that it will be as popular in districts considered fiscally conservative as those generally thought to favor more spending. This, rather than a poll that doesn’t cost the respondent anything to respond, will be a far better assessment of what the American people actually believe.

Third, a similar analysis by income would also be helpful. Anecdotal reports so far seem to indicate that the program is as popular with those who earn more as those who earn less. This would not be surprising but would still be good to know when assessing the real politics of today’s deficit.

Finally, we should watch to see if any of the associations that regularly demand the deficit be reduced but have members who will benefit from the program support more cash for clunkers dollars regardless of whether the additional spending is offset…

Ouch!  (I hang my head down in shame…)

4 Responses to “Hello from 34,000 Feet”

  1. comment number 1 by: murf

    Cash for Clunkers is insanity in action. Nitwittery reigns.

  2. comment number 2 by: Sam

    Collender should collect some facts before he starts publishing his ’suspicions’ and ‘anecdotal’ reports — that’s just weak, very weak.

    If you step back for a moment, you can see exactly where he’s going with this — and he does so without providing a shred of evidence … for anything.

    Maybe he should consider that the demographic support for cash for clunkers might be… people who happen to own old, inefficient gas guzzlers … whether those sunspots line up with any other demographic remains to be seen … I’m sure Stan will let us know.

  3. comment number 3 by: enoriverbend

    Actually, the error is more basic: Why does it matter who takes advantage of it? I opposed the clunker bill, and opposed its extension, but have no moral problem if I were to have taken advantage of it. It’s neither hypocritical nor a change of heart, it’s simply taking advantage of yet another mysterious government stupidity, like taking a tax deduction that you really wouldn’t have supported creating in the first place.

  4. comment number 4 by: Anandakos

    River Bend,

    And how exactly is your position moral, ethical, or even smart? You are not legally bound to take that tax deduction “you really wouldn’t have supported creating in the first place.” No one will come to take you away if you pay the government a few hundred dollars more in order to reduce your portion of the current deficit.

    So of course it “matter(s) who takes advantage of it”. It shows how little ethical rigor your side really possesses. Calling government stupid and craven because it gives a tax preferment to someone you don’t like is hardly high-minded — especially if you don’t like that person because she or he is a member of some disadvantaged group while you’re a member of the heretofore political and economic masters group.

    The response to this program shows that there are plenty of people in the “conservative” party who are neither high-minded nor actually conservative. They’re really just opportunists torqued by the loss of their governmental enforcers.