>Cash for Clunkers . . . for Charity?

>I haven’t gotten political on here very often, but I was struck with an insight a few days ago, and I don’t think I’ve heard this perspective yet.

The Cash for Clunkers program has been the subject of much talk lately: the media, blogs, Web sites, casual conversation, etc. It has surprised nearly everyone in the nation, even its creators; I’m still not sure how a program (that was meant to start in the beginning of July) gets under way in late July with the aim of lasting until November goes bankrupt after just a few days. Something about that doesn’t seem quite right. But, it seems to be quite a success.

On NPR earlier this week, I heard one of the many stories that have been published on the program, and how the ol’ clunkers had run into some financial roadblocks. The car dealers, who initially front the money to consumers for the clunker-trade-ins, have been put in an odd, counter-intuitive spot.

You see, most of the time when people bring in used cars, dealers immediately find ways to turn them around, sell them again, and make a profit. But the rules of Cash for Clunkers mandate that as soon as the dealers receive the sub-par, gas-gulping vehicles, they must pour a lethal cocktail into the engine, forever disabling it (I suppose it’s the lethal injection for automobiles). Once they do that, the U.S. government would reimburse the dealer for doling out the cash to consumers. So whereas dealers used to turn clunkers around for revenue, now they must purge them.

As made evident by the speed in which Uncle Sam spent all his clunker capital, this program has infused quite a bit of cash into consumers’ pockets, and into dealers’ bottom lines. If the federal government is going to spend money to inflate a sagging economy, this seems like a reasonable way to do it. And whether or not you believe in global warming, it’s a good idea to get less efficient vehicles off the roads.

But, it seems awfully counterproductive to jettison vehicles that still seem to have many more miles on them.

After hearing a dealer groan about wasting working vehicles in the NPR piece, I thought not of the profit they could make, but of the people who could use another vehicle, especially families strapped by a layoff, or a foreclosure, or just by an ever-tightening budget. I thought of folks not just here in the U.S., but also around the world.

Goodwill Industries has a program, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones, where motorists can donate their vehicles to the company, which will then give the cars to folks enrolled in some of their programs who might need the extra vehicle. Maybe a large family can only afford a small, compact car, but needs a minivan. Maybe an elderly gentleman has to work, but can’t get a job because he doesn’t have a car. The scenarios are endless. What I’m getting at here is that I think there are scores of people who could use these clunkers. And people will can gain from this more so than the earth will benefit from cars being off the streets.

Now, I know one of the objectives for this program was to get not-so-fuel-efficient vehicles off the roads and to get more drivers into eco-friendly autos. So another idea I had was to breakdown the old clunkers and sell the parts for charity; donate that money to folks who need it. The dealers can’t use the components anyways after they administer the car cocktail, so they won’t lose any more money than they already would have. Just so long as the potential value in those vehicles isn’t voided by a green seal of approval.

The fight to protect Creation — the reason these vehciles are nixed — is a valuable one, but I fear environmentalists and politicians aren’t concerned with protecting Creation so much as they are intent to put the natural environment above human needs or to garner votes. There is a way we can both help Creation grow and care for people. The folks trading in these clunkers are upgrading to better vehicles anyway, and if the old cars are donated, people are being cared for, in a small way.

While I have my doubts about government-instituted welfare programs (that used to be the sole responsibility of the Church), if we’re going to spend billions of dollars for this, let’s find a way to benefit people too, not just the “environment,” the vague term often used by those who see Creation exisiting due to chance and chemistry, for no such purpose as to benefit humans.

If we believe humans are indeed more valuable than “environment,” let our national policy reflect that. But my fear is not many people believe that anymore.


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