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Archive for the ‘cash for clunkers’ Category

Not that we need more evidence, but here are two new items confirming the absurdity of thinking that bigger government is stimulus. First, we have a story from Los Angeles revealing that the city only created 55 jobs with $111 million of stimulus funds. This translates to a per-job cost of $2 million, which is a grossly inefficient rate of return. But this calculation is incomplete because it doesn’t measure how many jobs would have been created if the money was left in the productive sector of the economy. Moreover, it’s also important to consider long-term costs such as the fact that Los Angeles now has more overhead, which will exacerbate the city’s fiscal problems.
The Los Angeles City Controller said on Thursday the city’s use of its share of the $800 billion federal stimulus find has been disappointing. The city received $111 million in stimulus under American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) approved by the Congress more than year ago. “I’m disappointed that we’ve only created or retained 55 jobs after receiving $111 million,” says Wendy Greuel, the city’s controller, while releasing an audit report. …The audit says the numbers were disappointing due to bureaucratic red tape, absence of competitive bidding for projects in private sectors, inappropriate tracking of stimulus money and a laxity in bringing out timely job reports.
Our second item is a new study from two scholars who find that the cash-for-clunkers program was a total failure. Just as anybody with an IQ above room temperature could have predicted, the overwhelming effect of the program was to encourage people to change when they purchased cars. There was no long-term positive impact on any economic variable.
A key rationale for fiscal stimulus is to boost consumption when aggregate demand is perceived to be inefficiently low. We examine the ability of the government to increase consumption by evaluating the impact of the 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” program on short and medium run auto purchases. Our empirical strategy exploits variation across U.S. cities in ex-ante exposure to the program as measured by the number of “clunkers” in the city as of the summer of 2008. We find that the program induced the purchase of an additional 360,000 cars in July and August of 2009. However, almost all of the additional purchases under the program were pulled forward from the very near future; the effect of the program on auto purchases is almost completely reversed by as early as March 2010 – only seven months after the program ended. …We also find no evidence of an effect on employment, house prices, or household default rates in cities with higher exposure to the program. 
The lesson from the cash-for-clunkers program also can be applied to other temporary programs. Good tax cuts, for instance, become gimmicks when they are temporary. This doesn’t mean there is no positive effect on incentives from a payroll tax holiday, temporary expensing, or a two-year extension of the 2001/2003 tax cuts, but the overwhelming impact is to alter the timing of economic activity rather than the level of economic activity.

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A fallacy (one of many) of Keynesian economics is that it incorrectly assumes that consumption is the cause of economic growth rather than the result of economic growth. This leads advocates of this misguided theory to adopt policies designed to get people to spend more – even though economic growth (by definition) is the result of people earning more income. This absurd logical mistake is evident in the cash-for-clunkers debacle, as I explain to Foxnews.com:

…critics have a different view. “This is not good for economic growth,” said Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow in economics at the Cato Institute. “You’re simply getting people to use existing income to spend on cars. Getting people to spend more of their money on cars mean they will have less money to spend on other things.” Economic growth, Mitchell argued, is not getting people to spend more money on products, it’s getting them to have more income. Mitchell also believes the program is counterproductive for the auto industry down the road because the acceleration in car purchases will precede a “big downturn in the future.” “Giving someone a shot of heroin is not good for their long term health,” he told FOXNews.com. The program, Mitchell added, shows that the government is “incompetent.”

The Wall Street Journal has the same perspective, noting that the policy is not a success – unless one defines success as getting people to buy things with other people’s money:

What the clunker policy really proves is that Americans aren’t stupid and will let some other taxpayer buy them a free lunch if given the chance. The buying spree is good for the car companies, if only for the short term and for certain car models. It’s good, too, for folks who’ve been sitting on an older car or truck but weren’t sure they had the cash to trade it in for something new. Now they get a taxpayer subsidy of up to $4,500, which on some models can be 25% of the purchase price. It’s hardly surprising that Peter is willing to use a donation from his neighbor Paul, midwifed by Uncle Sugar, to class up his driveway. On the other hand, this is crackpot economics. The subsidy won’t add to net national wealth, since it merely transfers money to one taxpayer’s pocket from someone else’s, and merely pays that taxpayer to destroy a perfectly serviceable asset in return for something he might have bought anyway. By this logic, everyone should burn the sofa and dining room set and refurnish the homestead every couple of years.

Last but not least, the CEO of Edmunds, the company that publishes leading car-buying guides, has a column in the Wall Street Journal explaining that even auto companies may come to regret this policy since the net effect seems to be that consumers either postponed or accelerated purchases that would have occurred anyway:

…it’s not clear that cash for clunkers actually increased sales. Edmunds.com noted recently that over 100,000 buyers put their purchases on hold waiting for the program to launch. Once consumers could start cashing in on July 24, showrooms were flooded and government servers were overwhelmed as the backlog of buyers finalized their purchases. Secondly, on July 27, Edmunds.com published an analysis showing that in any given month 60,000 to 70,000 “clunker-like” deals happen with no government program in place. The 200,000-plus deals the government was originally prepared to fund through the program’s Nov. 1 end date were about the “natural” clunker trade-in rate.

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