Robin Hood on CO2: Tax rich motorists to help the poor get a cleaner car? I say 'yeah!'

Now here's a novel thought that a right-wing fiscal conservative would scream at but a pro-active, left-leaning person would consider: raise taxes on high-income motorists, then take that money to fund a government voucher program to allow low-income motorists to buy a newer vehicle.

Why? In Los Angeles, fewer than 10 percent of the vehicles on the road are more than 15 years old yet they account for more than half the smog. Now read this carefully. If the government would institute the voucher program just mentioned and not require automakers to develop even stricter emissions systems for their vehicles, everyone wins. How? The price of the cars would come down, so the high-income motorists more or less would break even and low-income motorists get a cleaner car. Again, everyone wins because the air is cleaner.

It'll never be debated because those who are against larger government and so called "income redistribution" would freak out at the thought of a CEO who makes $5 million a year directly helping a struggling single mom who works the cosmetics counter at Macy's buy a clean, fuel efficient car.

During my talks with powertrain engineers, I feel their frustration at increasing government regulations over emissions. Today's vehicles put out less than 2 percent of the emissions from 30 years ago. But the cost to go another 1 percent is probably equal or greater than what the automakers have already spent. It's like building horsepower in an engine. I can take a basic 250-horsepower small-block Chevy and make 100 horsepower more on a $1,000. But to add another 100 horsepower is probably going to cost me an additional $2,000. And another 100 horsepower will cost $5,000, an so on. NASCAR engine builders are spending millions just to find 5 horsepower these days. It's the same with reducing emissions in passenger cars. Take that cost out of the vehicle and help low-income drivers buy a new vehicle, and you've achieved the same overall result, probably with less money. And I'm not against stopping all emissions research, just spread out future regulations and give the voucher program some time work. I know the automakers won't make cuts on their own, so keep the pressure one. Just try another approach that can make significant differences in a hurry.

My thoughts follow a reading of a think piece by Robert Frank in the New York Times. He also considers health care in the same light. Basically, he's calling on anti-government crusaders to violate their top two commandments, and with good reason.

[Source: Robert H. Frank / New York Times]

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