If ever a president seems to have learned nothing from the times he’s living in, Barack Obama is it. Economies around the world are foundering from an accumulation of policy excesses produced by the sort of straight-line, robotic thinking he’s applying to so-called corporate average fuel economy rules.
If more money for less work is popular, thought Greece, twice as much money for half as much work will be even more popular.
If 64% of Americans owning their own homes is a good thing, thought Bill Clinton, 67% is better. If 67% is good, thought George Bush, 69% is better.
If forcing auto makers to build cars that deliver an average of 35.5 mpg is good, believes Mr. Obama, forcing them to deliver 56.2 is even better.
Engineering is absent. Any appreciation of the law of diminishing returns is absent. Sean McAlinden of the authoritative Center for Automotive Research recently pointed out that many of the materials needed for ultra-high-mileage vehicles would outstrip current world production several times over.
Asking consumers, meanwhile, to bear the cost of fuel-economy improvement they don’t value will cause them to keep their old cars on the road longer. And in pursuit of what benefits? If we junked every gasoline-powered car and truck in America, it would have no appreciable impact on global carbon dioxide. If, as Mr. Obama intends, we switch to electric cars, those cars would be powered by coal, so the alleged atmospheric dividend will be doubly elusive.
Jenkins puts his finger adroitly on the key problem, that the administration seems perpetually to mistake itself for Jean-Luc Picard. In Hollywood, one can simply raise one’s hand and say ‘make it so’ — physics, cost, real-world consequences be damned. Back in reality there are often good, complex reasons for the status quo. Reasons which tend not magically to disappear upon the arrival of a mandate.