Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fatal Conceit

It might be tempting to joke that Barack Obama's unilateral overhaul of federal fuel economy standards (isn't Congress supposed to have a say in such matters?) is a full employment program for crash test dummies, and trauma room physicians, since the lighter, less-crashworthy vehicles that result will almost certainly increase the risk of serious injuries and fatalities for motorists. But it really isn't a laughing matter that the Automaker-in-Chief is treating the rest of us like crash test dummies.

And dummies Americans are if they aren't alarmed by the ramifications of what's going down in Washington and Detroit, where federal tax dollars and raw power are being used to coerce a consensus on Obama's latest regulatory onslaught -- a point made by The Denver Post's David Harsanyi in this excellent column.

It's interesting that the reflex-regulators in the Democratic Party will spare no public expense or government effort in trying to ameliorate some statistically insignificant public health threats on the one hand, while shrugging off the additional safety risks that result from the federal government's meddling with fuel economy standards on the other.

If there's a 1 in 6 million chance that trace levels of arsenic in drinking water could theoretically give someone cancer someday, as determined by lab rats, the regulate-firsters are demanding that something be done, no matter the costs and burdens of compliance, no matter the tenuousness of the causal links involved. Yet the well-documented fact that lighter vehicles are also more dangerous vehicles -- meaning that forcing motorists into smaller, lighter vehicles increases their risk of serious injury or death on the roadways -- has never been a deterrent to those who believe they can save the planet by making use all drive Yugos.

Kudos to USA Today for at least noting that Barack's Obamamobile won't come without trade-offs, not just in higher costs but also in lives lost:

"The National Academy of Sciences, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Congressional Budget Office and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have separately concluded in multiple studies dating back about 20 years that fuel-economy standards force automakers to build more small cars, which has led to thousands more deaths in crashes annually. Even though the standards were updated in recent years to reduce the incentive for automakers to sell more small cars by allowing different fuel-economy targets for different vehicles, the fastest way to make cars more fuel-efficient is to make them smaller. Some safety experts worry that the administration's green focus could reverse progress made in reducing the highway death toll.

But otherwise, there's been precious little mention of Obama's fatal conceit in the "mainstream" media. A panel "discussion" on the subject on CNN Tuesday had a former colleague of mine, Sam Kazman, who heads up the Death by Regulation Project at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, trying to make this very point, while being snapped at and sneered at by the host and 5 other panelists, none of whom took these points seriously. "No bias"? What bull.

If Obama had done something that carried even the slightest chance of endangering polar bears or spotted owls, these same panelists would be gnawing their fingernails and wringing their hands. But the fact that people might die as a result of Obama's regulatory zeal just didn't compute. The possibility that misdirected government action might actually cause harm or decrease public safety just boggles their minds -- it's like a pony pondering a Rubik's cube. But that's America for you.

The Obamatons deny that these mandates put Americans at risk.

"The Obama administration maintains the new fuel standards can be met without forcing more small cars into the market. "Because every (size) category has to get more efficient, if the soccer mom wants to buy her minivan, it will be a more fuel-efficient minivan. If someone wants to buy a big SUV, it will be a more fuel-efficient SUV," said Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change. She said companies can use advanced technologies to improve fuel efficiency without dramatically changing their fleets."

Right, right: All we need to do is order companies to comply, and throw enough money at the problem, and anything is possible. We put a man on the moon, didn't we? (Well, yes, back in 1969 -- but we'd have a hell of a time repeating that feat today).

This is Field of Dreams policy-making: Mandate it and it will happen. Just like we'll be generating 20 percent of our electricity from windmills by 2025. Just like we'll grow our way to energy independence with ethanol. Just like we'll find a better way to store nuclear waste than Yucca Mountain. Just like we'll reduce America's "carbon footprint" to 1990 levels by 2020 -- or whatever the pie-in-the-sky promise of the day is. And just like we'll erase the federal budget deficit tomorrow by passing $3 trillion budgets today.

Carol Browner says there's nothing to worry about because the mandates apply across the board. Everyone will be downsizing simultaneously. But surely she's heard of something called the used car market. Not everyone can simultaneously get into a sleek new Obamamobile, especially since these mandates will come with a hefty price tag, so many bigger, heavier, gas-guzzling Bushmobiles will remain on the road for decades to come. And what happens when one of these lighter, more fuel-efficient Obamamobiles meets head-on with a bigger, heavier, gas-guzzling Bushmobile? Riders in the Obamamobile in most cases will get the worst if it.

But they'll go to their graves, or to the emergency room, with their minds at ease, knowing that they've done their part, and made the ultimate sacrifice, in order to help curtail greenhouse gases.

Unless Super President can revoke the laws of physics -- which just might be possible in his case -- the next round of government-mandated downsizing will lead to more fatalities than would otherwise occur. But apparently this, in the eyes of Obamatons, is an acceptable price to pay for lowering our dependence of foreign oil (which won't happen, in all honesty, because an ever-increasing number of American drivers will continue to push demand for oil and gas higher, even if they all drive Obamamobiles, overwhelming any efficiencies realized through these mandates) and reducing our carbon treadprints.

Hey all you crash test dummies out there! Don't forget to buckle up. There's one messy car crash waiting at the end of the Obama thrill ride.

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