My Addiction to Health and Prosperity

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?


  1. Zach:

    It's even more insidious than that. He's saying "you, common folk: take a higher risk of death/serious injury by driving these tin cans around, because by driving a safer car you're making my gas prices go up."

    I suspect he isn't interested in paying for medical care and/or death benefits for these people, either.

  2. L Nettles:

    For some unexplainable and mysterious reason hybrid cars are selling for a substantial premium over the MSRP. I'm not sure how car dealers figured this out, but this is "price gouging" and of course there should be a mandate to prevent this. (and if they put those fuel mileage/cost stickers, some might just figure out the premium price is not worth it.)

  3. Bruce Hall:

    I hate to be a party pooper, but Kevin misses the obvious: there is a "fee" built into driving a less fuel-efficient vehicle and that [besides operating costs] is the taxes imposed at the state and federal level on each gallon of fuel.

    In a state like Michigan where there is both a fixed tax per gallon plus a 6% sales tax, as the cost of gasoline increases, so does the total "fee."

    Perhaps Kevin is thinking more along the lines of a Carbon Tax which is focused on a redistribution of wealth... that ideas is getting a cold reception in Canada right now.

  4. Josh:

    For some unexplainable and mysterious reason hybrid cars are selling for a substantial premium over the MSRP.

    Probably because customers want them and are willing to pay the price, yet the hybrids are scarce. This is extremely basic economics.

    Here are some reasons to buy a hybrid:

    - You want to give others the impression that you're working to save the environment.
    - You want to drive in the HOV lanes without anyone else in the car.
    - You want to save money by buying less gasoline.
    - You want to help the environment.

    If, as you say, the prices are well above MSRP, the "saving money" motivation cannot be the primary factor. It's more likely the image you project by driving one - you show that you're of one mind with people who are highly concerned about global warming. In other words, it's a political statement. A big piece of jewelry.

    I'm not sure how car dealers figured this out, but this is "price gouging" and of course there should be a mandate to prevent this.

    Who are you to decide who should be allowed to buy a hybrid? What makes you think that MSRP should be given the force of law? Why don't you read about Soviet attempts to micromanage the economy and set prices, and reconsider whether this is something you want to happen to the United States.

  5. Mike:

    When the price of gasoline jumped from $0.35 to $0.60 cents a gallon in the early 70's (those were the days), we decided to buy a Toyota Corolla to save money. Yes, we paid a premium (above sticker), but (a) no one was forcing us to buy a Toyota and (b) the cars were flying off the lot, so the dealers had no problems finding buyers.

    When we traded the car in about 5 years later (new baby; needed more space), I did a quick calculation that showed we had indeed saved money over the life of the car, even given the front-loaded price premium.

  6. Ian Random:

    Hell, that's better than the lame CAFE standards we have now. I think Ford was giving away Escorts just to meet it awhile ago. Although, I can't stand the idea of a subsidy for buying a car. Of course if the government really cared, they'd wave all fees for hybrid vehicles, but they'd never do that since it might affect their revenue stream.

  7. Rob:

    There is already a fee for less efficient cars (paying for more gas) and also the gas guzzler tax.

    Also, France already has a system like Kevin Drum has mentioned. If you buy a big car, you pay an extra fee which in turn helps someone else buy a smaller and cleaner car.

  8. Sally:

    For all the talk of pushing efficiency of new car purchases, I can't help but wonder what the distribution of pollution is from passenger cars, or what percentage of cars on the road are purchased that year. My intuition says that 20% of automobiles, likely '84 caprices and their ilk, create 80% of the pollution.

  9. Anonymous:

    "What does freedom mean? It means that hundreds of millions of ordinary human beings live their lives as they see fit -- regardless of what their betters think. That is fine, unless you see yourself as one of their betters..."--Thomas Sowell

    "If people are free to do as they wish, they are almost certain not to do as we wish. That is why Utopian planners end up as despots, whether at the national level or at the level of the local 'redevelopment' agency."--Thomas Sowell

  10. Dr. T:

    Thank you for another example of why I dislike Kevin Drum.

    It makes no sense to penalize the family of five that buys a 22 mpg minivan and to reward the single person who buys a 44 mpg subcompact hybrid. The family minivan gets 22 mpg x 5 people = 110 person-miles per gallon. The single person's subcompact is less than one-half as efficient at 44 person-miles per gallon.

    Every time the minivan carries two people, its fuel efficiency per person equals the subcompact hybrid carrying one person. So why does Kevin Drum believe that mpg-related purchasing penalties and rewards make sense?

  11. CB:

    The other often overlooked variable is how much driving do you do? I work within 8 miles of my house. Over the weekend I only took two trips - combining all my errands. So I am driving about 100 miles per week. I think that earns me the right to decide how big my vehicle should be (o.k it is a Suburban).

  12. Les:

    Hearing about the ways government is trying to penalize low-MPG vehicle ownership (either through pushes from people like Kevin Drum or on it's own initiative) is just one of the ways the Federal government and those with their fingers deepest into the Federal Pie resent small-town/rural dwellers.. if/when they remember we exist.

    Dr. T had a good point with the Minivan, but what about for the family out in the sticks running one of the few true family-farms not yet buried by Agri-business or government' fellatiating of same? What happens when this hypothetical family that resembles so many of my neighbors that can only afford one car and has to use the same 3/4 ton truck they use for work to drive the 20 miles to town for groceries has to pay a premium for the 'privilege' of owning such a vehicle?

    As a digression, I think I know why large trucks and SUVs have been so popular and remained popular up until the current deepening of the gasoline price-crunch. Take a look at a small car, it's cramped, naturally. Now take a look at a large car, a big Lincoln land-barge... it's Still Cramped! Comparing a contemporary luxury car with a similar car from 20 years ago the newer model is like driving in a coffin! Engineers fetishizing the elimination of 'wasted-space' while stream-lining the cars have have produced something totally claustrophobic. The window and windshield curve-in around you up top, the steering-column is in your lap, the comfy seat is given barely any clearance between it and either the center-divider and the door and the console is up in your armpit. Trucks and SUVs based on Truck chassis are basically boxes, and for the most part engineers have resisted urges to deviate from that dynamic so they have tons of elbow-room by default.

    Big Trucks and SUVs are inneficient commuter vehicles, have crap gas milage, are top-heavy and unstable and they annoy the neighbors.. but all that is a small price to pay for the ability to stretch-out a bit.

  13. Mesa Econoguy:

    Kevin Drum is a moron.

    There is no addiction to oil.

    Kevin Drum previously would have said: 1) we’re addicted to horses, and hay! (1540-1820), and 2) We’re addicted to steam, and coal! (1830-1910).

    Personally, I’m addicted to insulting people like Drum’s historical economic ignorance.

  14. tomw:

    "Here's a further suggestion: require stickers to list the estimated cost of fuel consumption over a five year period."

    If Drum ever looked at the Monroney new car sticker, he would see that the estimated cost is ALREADY THERE.

    Good research, Kev.


  15. dimple:

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  17. Bob:

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