Cash for Clunkers May Cost Up to $45,354 Per Vehicle

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by: Avery Goodman

The "Cash for Clunkers" program has been a "great success", at least according to the government, and the auto industry. Within days of its kickoff, all $1 billion allocated to the program has been used up by Americans who have eagerly lined up to trade their clunkers for new vehicles.

Some refreshingly honest reporting has come from Edmunds.com, a car buying site that is telling the truth, in spite of benefiting from an increase in business and site traffic, due to the program. According to Edmunds, about 200,000 old low mileage cars would normally be traded in, every 3 months, in exchange for more efficient higher mileage cars, without this program.

The highest rebate is $4,500, and the lowest is $3,500. If everyone qualified for $4,500 per vehicle, about 222,000 vehicles would have just taken advantage of the government's money. At $3,500, 286,000 vehicles will have been sold.

I assume that, given all the raving, the government will eventually get around to assigning more money. It will take at least 2 or 3 months for the legislation to work its way through Congress. Meanwhile, if all buyers have qualified for the higher $4,500 rebate, the "cash for clunkers" program will mean a marginal increase in car sales of 22,000 this quarter. $1 billion divided by 22,000 means a net cost to the government of $45,354 per car.

If all buyers only qualify for the $3,500 rebate, it means a marginal increase in sales of about 86,000, or a net cost to the taxpayers of $11,628 per vehicle. In all likelihood, however, there will probably be a mix of vehicles qualifying for various rebates between $3,500 and $4,500. Based upon that assumption, Edmunds.com estimates that the average cost to the taxpayer will be about $20,000 per vehicle.

Even most of the marginally extra sales really represent people who were going to buy a new car eventually anyway. They are just buying a bit sooner than they expected. Old clunkers don't last forever, and they are almost all eventually replaced. The government is shifting tomorrow's demand to today, stealing from tomorrow to pay for today, but at great cost to the taxpayer.

The "cash for clunkers" program is yet another boondoogle - an expensive waste of precious taxpayer dollars. Government spending should be reined in, in light of the multi-trillion dollar unsustainable deficits that this nation now faces. However, if we must increase government spending, the money would be better spent on infrastructure and education improvements that might help bring jobs back to America, and encourage long term growth, rather than cosmetic improvements to the short term earnings of makers of high mileage automobiles, many of which are foreign companies.

This government is, unfortunately, a reflection of the current state of economic immaturity that prevails in America. The vast majority of people, including most people in Congress, do not understand the forces that drive the real economy, and see only the short term view. That is how they get manipulated into allowing the Federal Reserve to behave like a slush fund for big banks, passing programs like TARP into law, and enacting programs like "cash for clunkers" which all abuse the taxpayers.

Disclosure: No positions in any automaker.