Oh My God Just Stop Trying to Be Clever Already

Practically every congressional district has a car dealership, so it’s no suprise that the House added an emergency $2 billion influsion into the program Friday, when the deficit hawk crowd showed sudden shrinkage. One of the holdouts, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., noting the bankruptcy of chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride, suggested sarcastically, “Maybe we should have a Cash for Cluckers program and pay people to eat chicken? Then after that we can have a program to pay people to buy TVs and then a program to pay people to buy lumber. It would pass the test. It has a clever title. It would help a large industry. It would put free money in the hands of consumers.”

via SFGate: Politics Blog : Legislation to Watch.

Do you see me giving fitness advice? Writing a book about opening a successful business? Opening an internet support group about the care and hairspray-feeding of a sweet head o’ glamrock hair? No you don’t. So sir, please take this message back to your colleagues: stop trying to be clever because you are bad at it and it is embarrassing to behold.  Focus on things you’re good at, like slowing down the rate of change in a system badly in need of it, giving more of society away to rich people, cutting the legs out of vital social servi….. ehhhh, come to think of it go back to riffing on cash for clunkers jokes. I apologize for wasting your time.

Also can someone explain to me the juxtaposition of buying TVs and lumber? What am I missing? It seems like a total non-sequitur.

edited a little bit later: Oh hey I just looked back over this (ie: read the thing I’m linking to rather than doing the ol’ superskim) and whoops, I think it’s being criticized. (maybe it’s just being reported on. sometimes you look at shit as trench warfare for so long that it’s hard to tell) Anyway I found what I see as the crux so let’s deal with that.

The White House can only wish that its stimulus program was half as popular and apparently effective as the old-fashioned dropping-cash-from-helicopters idea behind the cash for “clunkers” program. It hands out $4,500 rebates for new cars that get just 10 miles per gallon more than any trade-in that averages 18 m.p.g or less; better yet, you can get $3,500 for a new vehicle that gets just 4 miles more m.p.g. than your old one.

President Obama is eager to extend the program, but the Senate has so far has been more reluctant; watch this week to see if the winds shift. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, is teaming with Maine Republican Susan Collins to demand that the required m.p.g. for a qualifying new car rise at least 2 m.p.g.

Ok, “only.” That’s what I’m focused on.  So 10 and 4 mpg are both tiny, insigniciant figures that get “only” tacked onto them – you know, “shit I’m hungry but I only have a dollar,” “I only have 5 minutes before my appointment!” or “Carolyn Lochhead (Lockheed?) is the only person willing to make this argument” but 2 mpg? Shit son, we don’t need qualifying adjectives for that sort of Intelligent Political Compromise!

In seriousness, if you have even the most basic level of education in statistics (I’ve taken one survey course myself. ooooo, elitist!) or a below-average grasp of mathematics you probably understand that 4 or 10 miles per gallon is actually pretty significant.  I did a bit of research (aka “googling”) before initially posting this but I can’t anything closer to what I’m actually looking for (average of mpg for all cars actually driven in the USA, preferably taking into account miles driven by a given car in a given year) than CAFE, so let’s just go ahead and pretend I’m Megan McArdle for a bit. Indulge me in a thought experiment k? (Look fuckers, if it gets you published in teh atlantic it’s good enough for this blog ite?)

If you add up all the Hummers and Priuses and everything in between and work it all out to an average mpg of 40 – and we know damn well that isn’t true right? – then 10 mpg is a 25 percent increase and 4 mpg is a 10 percent increase.  Now look into real-life factors: how many of us can afford a Prius? And how many of those who can afford one actually buy one instead of a truck, some other SUV, or even just a larger sedan? When you factor in all the big diesel trucks, farm equipment, cars that are still hanging around from 20-30-40-50-etc years ago, and who knows whatever else I’d be surprised to learn that the actual figure is above 20 mpg.  Assuming I’m correct in that assumption then cash for clunkers offers a 50% increase in mpg at $4500 level and 20% at the lower. Now consider that she’s criticising it for only increasing 18 (or less!) to 22-28 (22-55% increase … and let’s not even get into that ‘or less’) and that it’s selling a fuckload of cars no matter how you slice it. In other words, it’s popular – though oddly enough that doesn’t seem to be enough to provide cover, at least not in the short-term.  I guess we’ll see where it goes.

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