Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is it Wise to Raise CAFE Standards?

On first blush, requiring car manufacturers to make vehicles get better gas mileage (the so-called CAFE standards) seems a no-brainer: It minimally restricts people's freedom while reducing air pollution and our dependence on Middle East oil.

But on second blush, I'm not so sure:

  • If CAFE standards are raised, people will likely drive more thus emitting more exhaust because it's less expensive to drive: They'll spend less per mile on gas and the smaller high-gas-mileage cars (e.g., Toyota Corolla) cost less than larger cars (e.g., Toyota Camry.)
  • Smaller cars have smaller engines, which have a shorter lifespan, which means more cars will sooner enter the landfills and require the building of more new cars, the creation of which is bad for the environment.
  • Smaller cars are more dangerous--more people will die as a result.
  • The new high-tech gizmos needed to improve gas mileage (for example, variable-interval valves) will cost the average buyer $1500 to $2500 more per car, which makes people less likely to buy a car, which will be yet one more nail in the U.S. automakers' coffin.
  • And if people are still driving their old car, it's more likely to be a polluter, which will hurt air quality.
The lesson in all of this is that every time the government takes an action, there are likely enormous and often unanticipated side effects. In this case, I sense (and I don't think anyone can be sure,) that when the government restricts people's freedom to buy the vehicle they want and says that the government knows better than vehicle manufacturers how to make the right ones, when the smoke clears, we're, net net, worse off.


mbabbitt said...

I love how Liberals casually mention that the new standards will cause more deaths due to flimsier cars. What if it is your wife, your mother, or brother that dies because they were not given the free choice to choose the type of car their intelligence would decide to buy. All of this for a non-problem called global warming. Seriously, this world has gone nuts. Human life is less important than a mass hysteria to these ideologues.

Anonymous said...

I consider myself a liberal, but have been reading your blog because I think you make a lot of interesting and intelligent points. This post left me disappointed-- as you grasp at straws to undermine raising CAFE standards, you appear quite uninformed and spin evidence in your favor to create an extremely misleading argument.

1) you blatantly contradict yourself:
"the smaller high-gas-mileage cars (e.g., Toyota Corolla) COST LESS than larger cars (e.g., Toyota Camry.)" (so people will drive more)
then you say:
"The new high-tech gizmos needed to improve gas mileage (for example, variable-interval valves) will cost the average buyer $1500 to $2500 more per car" (So people won't buy cars)
You cannot have your cake and eat it too by saying that the cars will be less expensive (resulting in the negative consequence of people driving more) and then later saying the cars will be more expensive (resulting in the negative consequence of people not buying cars).

2) Smaller cars ARE NOT more dangerous. If everyone were driving smaller cars, then there wouldn't be monstrous Hummers and SUVs to destroy the smaller cars in a crash. Additionally, smaller cars are far less likely than SUVs to tip over or roll because they have lower center of gravity, so in that aspect they are safer. Lastly, if CAFE standards are raised and smaller cars become the norm, there would be even more consumer demand to increase safety of smaller cars than there already is because right now when people want safety they typically opt for larger cars instead of pressing for safer small ones. This is somewhat silly, though, because larger cars provide a false sense of security and instead just endanger the drivers and passengers of smaller cars.

3) "And if people are still driving their old car, it's more likely to be a polluter, which will hurt air quality." This is just stupid... raising CAFE standards will not make an old car more of a polluter than it already was, and higher standards would force buyers to replace the old car with a more environmentally-friendly one when the time comes to buy a new one.

I may stop reading your blog because now I fear other entries are based on misleading portrayal of evidence, as well. That's the problem with Conservative rhetoric-- it exploits our country's uneducated classes by crafting seemingly intellectual arguments that are in fact misleading and selective in the evidence they portray.

In response to mbabbitt: in many countries, the leading killers is respiratory diseases caused by pollution, to which automobile use is a contributor. See my above points about why smaller cars wouldn't be more dangerous.


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