You've heard the scary facts:
-the peoples of the industrialized world are making a collective mad dash toward peak oil, the point at which world oil production begins to decrease due to scarcity even as demand rises.
-the gasoline wasted on a single trip to Walmart with one of today's inefficient cars could be used in sixty years to operate a hyper-efficient, lightweight tractor enough to feed a family of four for a month. Since you've already used that gasoline, though, your grandchildren will probably just starve.
-for every pound of coal burned in a power plant to heat and cool the oversized houses we've been building in undesirably hot locations, four additional pounds need to be burned to generate electricity that will simply be lost as heat of the power lines on their way to their destination.
-by 2050, Frosty and his fellow snowmen will be hunted nigh unto extinction for their eyes, as American bison once were for their tongues.
A snowman gives up running (ca. 2046)
Odds are, though, that you, like most people, don't respond well to scary facts.
That's why the government has decided to bribe you instead (an interesting reversal from a longstanding tradition of government bribes going the other direction). They are now offering a complicated diagram which suggests that you could qualify for up to $4,500 toward a new car if its fuel efficiency is at least ten miles per gallon better than an old one you agreed to have smelted on the spot.
Where does the government get the money for this program? you may ask. The answer is outlined in another complicated diagram I've lost the link for. Basically, the idea is that poor Chinese factory workers invest the majority of their savings in U.S. treasury bills in the hopes of keeping the U.S. economy healthy as a market for cheap, tainted toys. The U.S. spends a portion of this money hiring bureaucrats to misfile T-bill purchaser information to prevent a future default on debts and then spends the remainder stimulating pieces of the economy, after careful consideration, more or less at random.
In my view, the "Cash for Clunkers" bill has largely vindicated random government action. Probably entirely by accident, the bill has includes far-sighted elements where energy is concerned, and has the shorter term side effect of getting some government money back to recently-obtained government automotive businesses.
The only thing I could hope for at this point is that the government followers up the "Cash for Clunkers" legislation in twenty years or so with an even more visionary "Huts for Houses" bill that enables people to trade away their McMansions for hovels and firewood.
Who knows? We might just need it.
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