As for environmental benefits from Cash for Clunkers, the reduction of gasoline consumption was small and "the cost per ton of carbon dioxide reduced by [the program] far exceeds the estimated social cost of carbon." But it was — herewith very faint praise — more cost effective than the subsidy for electric vehicles or the tax credit for ethanol.
Cash for Clunkers lasted 55 days and ended with confusion that was a preview of things to come. The New York Times (Aug. 1, 2009) explained the final surge of demand for clunker funds:
"Around the country, dealers had put off the laborious task of applying for the rebates . . . which requires entering the 17-character identification numbers of each vehicle to be scrapped, scanning images of proof of
insurance and filling out other paperwork.
The computer system was overloaded, according to the dealers. They said they would finish one page in the application, hit enter and nothing would happen.
Eventually a message would appear notifying the dealer that the page had "timed out."
Tom Frew, the business manager at Galpin Motors in Los Angeles, said that he needed 35 tries to register just one of the company's 11 dealerships on the day that the program opened because of problems with the government website. On Friday, he spent an hour processing just one rebate application, he said.
The recovery from the recession began in June 2009; 53 months later, vehicle sales still have not yet reached the pre-recession peak. Cash for Clunkers was prologue for the government's vastly more ambitious plan to manage health care's 18 percent of the economy.
The present, too, is prologue. There currently is heated debate about the Common Core, whose advocates say it merely involves national academic targets and metrics for primary and secondary education.
Critics say it will inevitably lead to a centrally designed and nationally imposed curriculum — practice dictated by targets and metrics. Common Core advocates say, in effect: "If you like your local curriculum, you can keep it. Period."
If you believe this, your credulity is impervious to evidence. And you probably are a progressive.
George Will's email address is georgew...@washpost.com.