Well, it turns out that, unlike the
Destiny debacle, the federal Cash for Clunkers initiative may be one of
those government programs that actually exceeds its own expectations.
By turning in an older gas-guzzling vehicle and buying a new car that
gets better mileage, you can get a rebate of up to $4,500. It’s
supposed to boost the economy, improve energy efficiency, help the
automobile industry, reduce dependence on imported oil, slow down
global warming, and give Billy Fuccillo something new to holler
about—all at the same time.
Given the decibel level in the latest
Fuccillo Hyundai ads, it seems to be working. And if reports from car
dealers are to be believed, the campaign has created its own bubble in
the auto industry, with nearly a quarter-million vehicles selling in
the first week of the deal.
This scheme of paying people to behave
could generate some interesting spinoffs in other areas. For starters,
let’s try out, in our home state, a program called “Scratch for
Senators.” Here’s how it works: If the people in your state Senate
district have the good sense to turn in their incumbent, regardless of
party, and instead elect a fresh face to send to Albany, you get an
extra share of the pork that the next state Legislature divvies up.
The only stipulation is that you have to
elect someone who is less ethically challenged than the model currently
sitting in the driveway at the State Capitol. That shouldn’t be too
hard for some folks in say, Queens or the Bronx, but for us here in
Central New York, with two senators with relatively unstained records,
it may take some hunting to find the legislative equivalent of the
Prius. Nonetheless, for the many who have come to believe that throwing
the bums out—every single one of them—is the only way to reform Albany,
Scratch for Senators is a good start.
Then there’s the ever-popular Dollars
for Deadbeats. Like the Clunker cash, this one meets a number of
societal goals all at once. It goes like this: If you know a deadbeat
dad, and you turn them in to Social Services, you get a reward from the
state. To make the prizes interesting, they will be paid in lottery
tickets. The bigger the amount of child support owed, the more Lotto
tickets you get.
The benefits are multiple. Children who
have done without funds from Daddy would get the needed cash. Single
moms struggling to make ends meet would catch a break. To the extent
that kids neglected by their dads are more likely to end up requiring
public assistance, the infusion of Daddy love into the system could
save the state money currently spent on health care, food assistance
and welfare. The state budget hole shrinks and eventually, maybe even
our tax rates will trend downward.
Over the years the government has tried
everything from withholding passports to garnishing paychecks to
signing treaties with Australia to encourage deadbeats to discharge
their paternal obligations. Why not reward citizens for turning them
in? We’ve got nothing to lose. Five years ago, federal figures for
child support payments showed that more than 6 million parents (most of
them dads) were behind in their child support to the tune of $90
billion. That’s a lot of clunkers.
Just one little detail. Dollars for
Deadbeats, if it is to be patterned on the Cash for Clunkers model, has
to incorporate another feature of the federal stimulus program. As the
auto plan is set up, when you turn in a Clunker, the dealer who takes
the trade has to ensure that the car can never be driven again. The
enabling legislation is actually anything but enabling. The feds
specify that the engine of the clunker be completely drained of oil.
Then a saline solution is poured into it, and the old clunker is
started up and run until this toxic goo works its way through the
engine until it seizes.
The engine goes from internal combustion to eternally impotent in just a few moments.
A similar program for deadbeats might be in order.