But Now You Know

The search for truth in human action

Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty

This was going to be an article about how the Obama administration’s “Cash for Clunkers” campaign is an assault on the poor — which it is, because it breaks the flow of newer used cars to poorer people — but, in gathering facts for it, I came to realize that another of the unintended consequences of this self-destructive law is that it, literally, will increase pollution.


Ultimately, both of these side-effects are caused by the bizarre, authority-obsessed requirement that the cars traded in be destroyed, not sold to owners of even older cars.

Cash for Clunkers Pollutes

This is because the older a car, the worse its gas mileage. Not only in general, but also because cars tend to perform worse as they age.

But Now You Know is getting GREAT mileage out of this picture of the wind-powered Aerius, that charges its own hybrid battery while driving, in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics

But Now You Know is getting GREAT mileage out of this picture of the wind-powered Aerius, that charges its own hybrid battery while driving, in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics

Cash for Clunkers only rewards people for buying new cars, not for simply buying any car that got better gas mileage, regardless of its age. And it destroys the cars traded in, regardless of their own gas mileage.

This means that only more-prosperous people, who can afford new cars, are able to use the C4C program. They are, therefore, often trading in relatively nice, fuel-efficient cars. Often, they are even buying cars only a couple of miles per gallon more efficient.

Meanwhile, what about the people with older cars, which are much less fuel efficient?

Simple: They are having the nicer, more efficient used cars they WOULD have bought destroyed. Leaving them in a pollutive car longer than if the C4C never happened in the first place.

Since the older the car, the more pollutive, this has the net effect of WORSE pollution, not better.

Someone buys a new car that gets two miles per gallon better. His used car is destroyed, instead of going to someone who owns an older car that gets TEN miles per gallon worse. The net result is an LOSS of 8 MPG.

Take this real-life example:

  • Dude A has a 16 MPG truck
  • Trades it in for an 18 MPG truck, Obama gives him $3500 to save 2 MPG
  • Dude B has a Chevrolet 1500, that gets 9 MPG
  • Dude B finds he cannot afford to buy to buy a 16 MPG truck, because prices have gone up so much.
  • He keeps his old truck.

Net result? The Obama plan gets credit for a whole 2 MPG increase, but actually produced a 7 MPG decrease.

“But this isn’t a good example”, some greenie shouts, “people were trading in SUVs for compact cars!”

While that would be a good example of the program increasing traffic deaths, it’s not actually true in this case.

This is because the initial stats claiming it were a contextual lie.

The actual numbers, in fact, show that the most people traded their vehicles in for SUVs and trucks.

But that’s not all…there is a large “carbon footprint” around manufacturing a new car. Statistically, it should be impossible for the above +2 MPG truck to save enough, in pollution, to make up for being built, over keeping the used truck. Same with non-carbon pollution, manufacturing versus microscopically worse gas mileage. Keeping an older car can actually reduce pollution.

Of course that wasn’t the original point of this article:

…and Causes Poverty

In their attack on consumer choice, the Obama administration attacked consumerism itself, which is a very politically-correct thing to do. But the fact is that consumerism makes our economy more efficient, and benefits the poor.

As the best-off consumers buy better things, items out of favor — whether used or just old models — become less expensive, allowing poorer people to buy progressively better stuff for the same prices.

In the case of cash for clunkers, the Obama administration broke this:

  • Nice used cars will now be in shorter supply, which will raise the relative prices of the remaining nice used cars.
  • This will make it harder for poorer people to afford to upgrade.
  • This will trickle all the way down to the very poorest, who will soon find that their ability to buy some minimal car AT ALL, is affected.
  • That can mean the difference between getting to a job, and getting out of poverty, or being trapped indefinitely.

So aside from the many other unintended consequences of this program, and there are many, the program has actually set the scene for poor people to have an even harder time affording cars, a vital tool for earning more money.

What’s more, most of the sales are ones that would have happened, anyway.

Didn’t Even Help

The net result of Cash for Clunkers will be more depressing effect on our economy. Government is often credited with the famous Reverse Midas Touch: Everything it touches turns to crap

The net result of Cash for Clunkers will be more depressing effect on our economy. Government is often credited with the famous Reverse Midas Touch: Everything it touches turns to crap

Speaking of poverty, the program did not actually stimulate car buying, to help the economy, especially did not help the American car companies (who did not deserve it, anyway), and did not even get those new buyers to save gas mileage!


Because most of the buying was just what economists call “front loading”; the choice to buy a car was simply moved ahead…once the plan ends, car purchasing will decline to an abnormal low from where it would have been, as most people who could have anticipated buying a car in the next year or two will have simply bought ahead, at taxpayer expense.

The net result, therefore, will be the same amount of economic activity, but crammed hastily into a shorter period of time, and with the economy-damaging side-effect of government spending having required government debt or taxpayer burden.

“Hasty” seems to be a government motto, of late.

Oh, and the “helping American car companies”? The people who took advantage of Cash for Clunkers mostly bought Japanese cars.

In all, these factors mean that even this most feel-good of big government programs, Cash for Clunkers, has had the overall effect of increasing pollution and harming the poor, by removing perfectly good, modern used cars from the road, trapping poorer people in much older cars, for longer…while either increasing pollution through manufacturing more new cars, or just causing future economic turmoil by using economy-depressing public finance to encourage people to simply buy their cars a few months early, all at one time.

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url: butnowyouknow.wordpress.com
site_owner: Kaz Vorpal
display_email: kazvorpal@yahoo.com
site_name: But Now You Know
site_description: Continuing a 15 year tradition of honest socio-political commentary and analysis.

August 14, 2009 - Posted by | Economy, environment, Politics, Society | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This is the great post by you. I must say you have covered the points of Cash for Clunkers. Well said.

    Comment by Novo Cars | February 27, 2012 | Reply

  2. used cars are always a bargain coz they cause very little compared to brand new cars “

    Comment by Polyethylene : | October 30, 2010 | Reply

  3. The article sounds scientific to people who dont know science. But most of the logic and data is incorrect and politically biased. The article uses so many generalizations that seem to make his point corrrect, but those generalizations make it phony. Im not Obama guy, but people seem to negate and blame him for everything these day. Maybe its because hes black or maybe because he’s democrat or maybe because there is whole lot of industry that looses money because of his actions. Actually, having power to critisize the govenrment is the best part of this country, but this time people do it without sound facts.

    Comment by Sam | April 9, 2010 | Reply

    • You make a retort that is vague to the point of meaninglessness.

      Tell us precisely what data and logic is incorrect, so that we can see if your claims stand up to examination. As it is, you’re just standing there with your fingers in your ears, shouting “I’m not LISTENING! LA LA LA LALALA!!!”

      Comment by kazvorpal | April 16, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] here: Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty « But Now You Know August 15th, 2009 in 1 | tags: causes-pollution, economy, even-help, help-the-economy, […]

    Pingback by bestnewsupdates.com » Blog Archive » Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty « But Now You Know | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  5. oh and by the way.. ive seen the crash videos for those little smart cars.. *shakes head* the day i buy something that small is the day we stop using bigger vehicles on the road.. they really should ask you what you want on your tombstone when you sighn the contract for that little car

    Comment by Faolen Marrok | August 25, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, this very blog had an article on how mandating smaller cars literally does kill people, because the owner of a compact car is THREE TIMES as likely to die in a car crash as the owner of a mere mid-sized car.


      Obama and friends know these statistics, and yet are forcing people to buy smaller cars (with CAFE standards and the like) anyway.

      Comment by kazvorpal | August 25, 2009 | Reply

  6. i think we’re missing a bigger picture here.. gas mileage.. has only been a serious issue since we started having higher and higher gas prices.. who gives a rats ass how good the gas mileage is if it doesnt get me where im going and perform the tasks i need it for.. Cash for CLunkers is deystroying the aftermarket.. Killing Cars WAAAAAY before there time.. valuable parts gone forever..

    and whats wrong with the people with older vehicles.. the day the power crazyed hippies operatoing on bad science come to take my jeep away or my muscle car or anything else.. they better have more people and better guns than me..

    this country is going to hell and the EPA and Obama are driving it there.. who gives a damn about Gas mileage.. what we need are more jobs right now.. what we need is to fix the economy. either give the people the money and let us spend it or shut the hell up and stop pointing their fingers at middle america with its working class people and start pointing it where it should be aimed at big industry.. lets compare.. grab a mobile 5 gas machine who makes more pollution my jeep or your smoke stack? we’ve already disproved that second hand smoking gives you cancer in lab tests with a good 5 gas..

    why the hell do we have so many idiots running on BAD SCIENCE in this country?

    Comment by Faolen Marrok | August 25, 2009 | Reply

  7. […] Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty But Now You Know Cash for Clunkers increases pollution, hurts the poor, increases the danger in accidents and didn't even help the economy. Vote Obama 2012! __________________ "Ron Paul is the only one I trust. I want to line up all the members of Congress and go down with Ron Paul and ask 'Which one is corrupted' and the ones he says are corrupted I would knock them unconscience and stick them in a pile" -Chuck Norris […]

    Pingback by Top Cash for Clunker Sellers - Conservative Republican Discussion Forums | August 22, 2009 | Reply

  8. I remember an article somewhere showing that a 2 mpg increase at the low end saves more gas than a 10 mpg increase at the top end, so that 7 mpg lost that you mentioned is actually worse for us than it seems at first glance.

    Comment by Daniel | August 21, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, this is simple mathematics:

      16 to 18 is 12.5%

      9 to 16 is 77%.8

      If the two drivers were each going 100 miles per week:

      18MPG needs 5.6 gallons
      16MPG needs 6.7 gallons
      9MPG needs 11.1 gallons

      So before C4C, because front-loading means the trade would simply have happened later, you’d end up with the two drivers consuming 12.3 gallons, en toto.

      Thanks to the destruction of the middle car, after C4C you end up with the two drivers consuming 16.7 gallons.

      Cash for Clunkers INCREASES pollution by one third, in that case.

      (all the math was off the top of my head, so it may not be spot-on)

      Comment by kazvorpal | August 21, 2009 | Reply

  9. […] Article reposted from But Now You Know […]

    Pingback by The Peace Freedom & Prosperity Movement » Blog Archive » Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty | August 20, 2009 | Reply

  10. Brilliant Kaz, as usual. The thing that bugged me the most though, when I first heard of the program, is that the destruction of anything of real value is always going to be a net loss to society. Apparently ideology trumps common sense as far as the dems are concerned.

    Comment by Robert Bryan | August 18, 2009 | Reply

  11. Okay, this could be your best article yet (well, second best – I still like your “sell the roads” article)! I’m DEFINITELY passing this one on.

    Comment by Daniel | August 18, 2009 | Reply

    • Obama makes it easy for me.

      It’s like Bush was for Jon Stewart.

      I’ll be updating and reposting the Sell the Roads article on here, when I get a chance…you may have noticed that I’ve posted three of the other “best” from Site of the Sentient as Pages (not part of the blog feed) on here…

      You check out the new logo?

      Comment by kazvorpal | August 18, 2009 | Reply

      • I completely missed the logo – I tend to miss details like that though. Now that I’ve taken the time to get a fresh look though, I can say that it’s pretty good!

        Comment by Daniel | August 19, 2009 | Reply

  12. […] This post was Twitted by booksneverythin […]

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  13. The scheme has done pretty well in Germany. This is attributed to the fact they still manufacture most of their cars. Therefore, it won’t work here in the UK, and I guess not in the US.

    Comment by On the Money | August 15, 2009 | Reply

    • In Germany, it has no more done well than in the US. In fact, it has simply become another permanent welfare program, there.

      Not only does it become part of the massive tax burden on the shrinking portion of Germans who are actually productive members of society, but its long-term nature means that it works simply as a subsidy on car prices, driving them up in that country…the net result is that car buyers are gradually being made to pay the same price they would have anyway, but also pay, through their taxes, the automakers extra money for nothing.

      Comment by kazvorpal | August 15, 2009 | Reply

  14. […] Continued here: Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty […]

    Pingback by Valuable Internet Information » Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty | August 15, 2009 | Reply

  15. Well Done, and Well Said.

    Good Job, man.


    Comment by Kai Cherry | August 15, 2009 | Reply

  16. […] Read the rest here: Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty […]

    Pingback by Cash for Clunkers Causes Pollution and Poverty « acc3ss.info | August 14, 2009 | Reply

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