Cash for Clunkers: Congress and Parliaments in Fantasyland. Why Not Knock Down Old Houses?
If Congress suddenly required every car and truck in America (all 250 million of them) to be immediately destroyed and replaced with new cars and trucks that got better gas mileage, would the country be worse off or better off? Those members of Congress who voted for the "cash for clunkers" program would probably say "better off," even though a perfectly good auto and truck stock would be destroyed.
The congressional clunker caucus would say millions of workers would be employed to replace all of the existing cars and trucks. Yes, that would be true, but everyone else would be poorer. Those who had to buy a new car would have less money to spend on everything else, which would mean fewer jobs in the rest of the economy -- more autoworkers but fewer farmers, teachers and medical researchers -- not a good trade-off.
Members of Congress would then say that we are saving gasoline by having a more efficient auto fleet -- which ignores the fact that building a new car takes far more resources, including petroleum, than could possibly be saved by the gain of additional miles per gallon.
Congressional "logic" could also be applied to housing.
Why not knock down all houses built in America before 2000 and replace them with new and more energy-efficient houses? Wait -- we already evidenced the results of that experiment -- it happened in New Orleans. Rather than the government directly knocking down the houses, Hurricane Katrina did it for us. Are the people of New Orleans better off or worse off because of Katrina? Are all of the American taxpayers who footed much of the rebuilding cost -- hundreds of billions of dollars -- better off or worse off because of Katrina?
~"Congress in Fantasyland," by Cato's Richard Rahn