Thursday, July 9, 2009

Steve Forbes Would Like Us to Drive Tanks & Raise the Gas Tax

In Steve Forbes' Fact & Comment article, "Car-Wreck Regs" in the current issue of the eponymous magazine, Forbes unfortunately twists historical statistics regarding highway safety and fuel consumption to seemingly support the continued development and production of gas guzzling cars that people have stopped buying.

Let's walk through a little of his tortured logic:

  • CAFE Rules Will Kill People: Forbes reaches back to an old study that found that about 2,000 additional people per year are killed in car accidents because CAFE standards drove manufacturers to build smaller, lighter cars. Now I'm sure that there is data that supports this and Forbes does a nice job of invoking an old trick -- if you reference a study you boost the credibility of your argument, regardless of the quality and bias of the study. Many "industry studies" are designed specifically to support a pre-determined point of view. So you have to determine whether or not the assertions pass your own personal smell test. Let's consider a few things then . The study compares cars build in the mid-nineties to cars built in the early '70s. But this doesn't take into consideration that in the intervening 30+ years that we have developed lightweight, yet stronger composite materials that are not only used in cars but airplanes. And it presumes that there has been no advances in car frame design or other safety systems like air bags or ABS braking systesm to make cars even safer. Not to mention that cars today meet much higher safety standards than cars of the past did. All in all it feels like Forbes' article is bunk.

  • New SUV's are cleaner than old, poorly tuned compacts. This is another truly stupid argument. Yes, it is very likely that a new car will have better emissions than a 15 year old car. So yes, it's better to have newer cars on the road than older ones. But smaller, more fuel efficient cars will be cleaner than large SUVs. So why not make more of the newer cars, smaller cars? Again, Forbes loses.

  • Rising CAFE Standards Increase Oil Consumption. Forbes uses some impressive statistics -- improperly -- to make his case. He points out that Fuel consumption has grown dramatically over the past 30 years -- a whopping 60%. But what he doesn't point out is that the number of cars on the road grew by 74% and with suburban sprawl, the number people who drove to work and the number of miles that they drove grew dramatically as well. These are the real reasons why consumption increased, not Americans' wild desire to drive more because mileage is better.

So what is Forbes' great idea instead of improving CAFE standards? Raise taxes. Yes, Steve Forbes who typically thinks that any idea to reduce taxes is a good one is suggesting that we raise the gasoline tax. His model for this strategy -- Europe. Another amazing flip-flop for Mr. Forbes. It's hard to think of any other article that Forbes has written that holds up Europe as a model for America to follow. He holds that high taxes is why Europeans are buying smaller, fuel efficient cars. But what happened to the problem with smaller cars being less safe? Either he doesn't care if Europeans crash to their deaths or he forgot what he wrote a few short paragraphs before.

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