Let’s face it: After 17 years and 232,522 miles of faithful service, my Jeep’s best days were long past. Time for some new wheels — but money’s a bit tight these days, for me as for so many others.
But, as good fortune would have it, not for the federal government: They’re willing to pay me $4,500 — $4,500! – to turn that clunker in for a new car satisfying the combined demands of political correctitude and the auto-dealer lobby. Alas, the rules specify that the big, powerful, safe truck that I want does not qualify.
And so I asked the question on the minds of millions of my fellow concerned citizens: How can I get my snout into this trough? Easy: I buy a small car qualifying for the $4,500, and keep it for a few months until the cash-for-clunkers boondoggle has run its course. At that point, the supply of used cars will have shrunk and their prices driven up; I will sell the almost-new small car for what I paid for it ($12,629 last Saturday) or more, at worst having driven it for free, and then buy the truck I covet.
I am deeply ashamed of myself, having worked the system while the poor get shafted by higher prices for the used cars they demand and by higher prices for the used parts needed to repair them. (Under the rules, the clunker engines have to be destroyed, the real-life Beltway version of the old joke about the fate of dairy farming under socialism: The government takes the milk and shoots the cows.) This is hardly the first time — nor will it be the last — that modern environmentalism has harmed those less fortunate.
As for me, I remain ashamed, but not sufficiently so to have forgone the $4,500. And, to be blunt, I am hardly the only sinner in this congregation. When the federal government starts writing checks so as to implement half-baked ideas in pursuit of yet another cause for do-gooderism, gaming the system is the system, an eternal truth relevant to the ongoing debates over health care, taxes, and much else.
– Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.