Friday, October 30, 2009

Cash for Clunkers cost $24,000 per car has analyzed the car sales numbers during the Cash for Clunkers program and estimated that the marginal cost was $24,000 of our tax dollars for each new car sold:
A total of 690,000 new vehicles were sold under the Cash for Clunkers program last summer, but only 125,000 of those were vehicles that would not have been sold anyway, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the automotive Web site ...

The Cash for Clunkers program gave car buyers rebates of up to $4,500 if they traded in less fuel-efficient vehicles for new vehicles that met certain fuel economy requirements. A total of $3 billion was allotted for those rebates.

The average rebate was $4,000. But the overwhelming majority of sales would have taken place anyway at some time in the last half of 2009, according to That means the government ended up spending about $24,000 each for those 125,000 additional vehicle sales.
The average rebate value mentioned above seems like bad rounding. It appears the average rebate was closer to $4,348. Here's the math:

$3 billion overall cost ÷ 690,000 cars sold = $4,348 per car total cost

(690,000 / 125,000) × $4,348 = $24,000 per car marginal cost

In an example of regulatory capture (government regulators protecting the industry they are supposed to regulate), the Department of Transportation is defending Cash for Clunkers (i.e. "Car Allowance Rebate System") by saying that it was good for the auto industry:
"It is unfortunate that has had nothing but negative things to say about a wildly successful program that sold nearly 250,000 cars in its first four days alone," said Bill Adams, spokesman for the Department of Transportation. "There can be no doubt that CARS drummed up more business for car dealers at a time when they needed help the most."
Note that what's good for car dealers is not necessarily what's good for the overall economy, just as what's good for Realtors is not necessarily what's good for the overall economy. Like the first-time home buyer tax credit, Cash for Clunkers is nothing more than wasteful corporate welfare.

The White House has come out with a weak, short-term-oriented defense of the program. Notice, however, that for the most part the left-wing economics bloggers who are usually quick to defend the White House against faulty economic reasoning (e.g. Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, Calculated Risk) are remaining silent on this one. In fact, left-leaning economist Jeffrey Sachs is out with his own criticism of Cash for Clunkers' supposed climate benefits. Sachs actually makes the mistake of measuring total cost, rather than marginal cost, so the program is actually 5.5 times more wasteful than the numbers he complains about.

Just like the first-time home buyer tax credit, Cash for Clunkers is a handout of our tax money to the special interests who lobby Congress.

1 comment:

  1. Really, $24,000 of circulating funds per car. Excellent. That's something.

    "Note that what's good for car dealers is not necessarily what's good for the overall economy'

    And, what's good for my car tires isn't necessarily good for my overall car. It's just one more thing.

    What were people expecting, magic?