Will Cash for Clunkers hurt poor people?

As old gas guzzlers get demolished, critics warn that prices for used cars will rise

Published August 3, 2009 6:09PM (EDT)

"Velociman," writing at the blog Velociworld, has some rather strong feelings to share about President Barack Obama and the Cash for Clunkers program.

Velociman's contention is that the mandated destruction of the clunkers will decrease the supply of used cars on the market, leading to higher used car prices. This will hurt poor people who cannot afford new cars.

You poor people who voted for Obama? He just fucked you again. Poor people can't afford $500 car payments even with a $4500 taxpayer bailout. All those "clunkers"? They were traditionally immediately auctioned into the bottom rungs of the used car market. High school and college kids looking for a first car? Poor folk who can only afford a $500 to $1500 car, where the dealer carries the paper and you pay him weekly because your credit resembles that of the Weimar Republic circa 1922? You're boned, Patsy...

A government that purposefully destroys perfectly serviceable consumer goods, inexpensive goods that most benefit the poorest and most desperate members of society, is a government gone so fucking mad it makes the ravings of tertiary syphilis look wholesome in comparison.

This singular act belies any affectation of good faith, compassion, or humanity this craven and diabolical regime presumes. Barack Obama would rather have poor people beggar a damn ride to work, or walk holes in their shoes, than drive an affordable vehicle that does not meet his arbitrary and capricious definition of environmental friendliness.

Calling the Obama administration "craven and diabolical" seems to me to be overstating the case, but I can't argue with the thesis that a smaller supply of used cars will lead to higher used car prices. Still, what evidence I've been able to gather suggests that the used car market hasn't been doing all that great during the recession either, so adequate supply may not be the most pressing problem at the moment.

In any case, one could also argue that poor people get disproportionately smacked by a recessionary economy, so any measures taken that successfully stimulate economic growth overall might end up balancing out higher prices for used cars. What would you rather have? A job? Or a low-priced used car?

Environmentally speaking, the program seems to be doing better than predicted. The Department of Transportation reported on Monday that out of the first 80,000 or so Cash for Clunkers transactions, "Vehicles traded in under the program averaged 15.8 miles per gallon, compared with 25.4 miles per gallon for the new purchases, or a 61 percent improvement," according to Bloomberg.

So. Will Republican Sens. John McCain and Jim DeMint filibuster any further funding, as they are currently vowing to do? Will Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Claire McCaskill join with the GOP, while demanding tighter fuel economic requirements? We'll be here all week on this story (or at least until HTWW goes on summer vacation), because Cash for Clunkers has everything: government intervention in the economy, Keynesian stimulus politics, environmental goals, and class and partisan warfare.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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