Most have no time to consider the big picture, so when the Cash for Clunkers program comes their way, they think only of the immediate consequences. It reminds me of those horrible, failed urban-renewal government plans to raze innumerable small city communities and build huge high-rise apartments, plans that Robert Moses of New York City pushed on New Yorkers; plans which the late Jane Jacobs, the brilliant theorist of city life, opposed most of her life. But when you present the artist's conception of the new high-rises it tends to look kind of cool and many people are seduced by them.
Same with the clunkers trade-in program. I will just toss my old jalopy and get me shiny new wheels. Never mind that the money you get from the government will eventually come out of your or, especially, your children's and grandchildren's pockets, and the clunkers will end up in some junk yard that will cost millions and millions to clean up.
It appears that the recent build-up of a housing bubble hasn't taught people anything. Much of it was due to easy credit, credit folks didn't really have coming to them based on their actual financial situation. To recover from this the bulk of the population would need to go on an austerity program at least until after they paid off the debt and got back into the financial saddle.
Instead of dealing with the matter with some patience and prudence, the instant fix-it Obama regime simply reintroduced various ways once more in which the country as a whole can go into massive debt, leaving the problem to be dealt with by members of a future — and now non-voting — citizenry. It is all still just as reckless as the many private accruals of credit had been, but now it is more cleverly disguised because members of the current citizenry will not feel the pinch right away. It matters not at all to these people that they are imposing immense burdens on those who have no opportunity to accept or refuse them, not even by means of the democratic method. Once again the principle of "no taxation without representation" is f louted not only by violating it unabashedly but by not even acknowledging this fact and trying, however feebly, to argue against it.
The clunker program is especially cynical. Most of us have no chance of exploring the broader implications of current public policies. Most of us just try to live with them, make the most of them for purposes of managing our current affairs. So if a politician engages in the massive violation of elementary principles of justice and fair play while handing his constituency resources confiscated from others — or "borrowed" from helpless future voters — most will just accept it and make the most of it, never mind how the process can progressively corrupt the system under which we live.
The clunker program will seem like manna from heaven to a great many people with old cars they wish they could trade in for newer ones on favorable terms. Never mind that the precedent set or continued with the program spells hardship for those who will be citizens in the future. They cannot protest, and no politician, nor anyone in the major media, is going to bring up the matter since it is now and has been for decades quite routine and deemed acceptable. Republicans do it, Democrats do it, so no one on "Meet the Press" or the op-ed pages of The New York Times or Washington Post is going to write in opposition to it since bringing up the matter for discussion will simply prompt one's opponents to say, "Hey but your party has been doing this for decades on end." Robbing Peter to subsidize Paul is what welfare-state politics is all about, and both the major parties are firmly committed to this system. All that is open for discussion is how deeply the country ought to sink into the morass the system creates.
I am not excusing ordinary folks for their eagerness to take advantage of a something-for-nothing federal program, but I do wish to point out that such measures are by now so deeply entrenched in the country that one would need to do some very searching thinking about political economy to realize just how insidious it is. Few can devote the time needed to come to terms with this, so they just roll with the punches. And sadly the country lacks leadership in the mainstream that might remind folks of this fact.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Tibor Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University and is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. Most recently, he is author of "The Promise of Liberty." E-mail him at TMachan@link.freedom.com.