Thursday, August 23, 2007
I was recently reminded of a phrase that caught my ear nearly twenty years ago. The phrase came from a conversation I had with the father of a college classmate. If I recall correctly, he had worked in manufacturing around the time that the Big Three American automakers were getting creamed by the Japanese.
He placed a big chunk of the blame for this problem squarely on the American companies, claiming that they gypped the consumer by deliberately planning new models in such a way as to render older cars "obsolete", including through the use of shabby components they knew would have a short useful life. He called it "planned obsolescence".
While I think the story behind the trouble American car companies were having back then is a little more complicated than he made it sound, I would not put such practices past businessmen in certain industries, given the unfortunate pervasiveness of pragmatism within our culture.
Be that as it may, that phrase has caused me to come up with a succinct new phrase, "statutory obsolescence" to describe phenomena like this:
Yesterday, my old, but perfectly road-worthy car failed a state emissions test. I'll decide today whether it will be worth repairing it so it can pass or whether I should risk a ticket until I get a newer car.This car is perfectly good and, since it permits us to avoid making car payments, it is saving us lots of money. Unfortunately, since most Americans think it is okay for the state to infringe upon property rights as long as it is for "the common good" -- and since current fashion stirs up the passions of a poorly educated public to panic about global warming -- the apparatus of the state is being used to micromanage personal decisions such as the one I face about when I should buy a newer car.
Recently, I learned that the state is not only violating the property rights of car owners like myself in the process, but those of others. The state of Texas -- "red" and therefore supposedly a bastion for economic freedom -- is now stealing money from some of its citizens in order to pander to the irrationality of some and to quiet down or placate others like myself:
Houston-area drivers willing to trade in their pollution-belching clunkers for newer, environmentally friendly vehicles will soon be eligible for a $3,000 incentive from the state of Texas.Let's say Texas finances the statutory obsolescence of 45,000 vehicles at $3,000 each. That's $135 million dollars stolen from its rightful owners and diverted from more productive uses to unnecessary car purchases. If half of the state population of 20 million is in the labor force, each one of them has just been forced to cough up about 13 bucks apiece towards Al Gore's pet cause of forcing people to act on global warming whether or not they agree that they need to.
A new state law, intended to encourage drivers to retire old vehicles that pump out more smoky exhaust than newer models, will kick in around the end of the year. It applies to vehicles at least 10 years old in Texas counties that have failed to meet national air quality standards -- including Harris County -- for buyers with incomes of less than $62,000 annually for a family of four.
"Those 10-year-old cars, compared to today's standards, they are filthy," said state Sen. Kip Averitt [a Republican -- ed], who sponsored the legislation. "You take 40,000 or 50,000 cars off the road like that, and we know it will make a significant difference."
As Republican Kip Averitt might put it, "Those centuries-old concepts of freedom and individual rights are troublesome. You nickel and dime your constituents 40,000 or 50,000 times like this and we know it will make a significant difference." Hint: "Different" does not always equal "improved".
Once again, we are slowly being made used to less and less of one life necessity, freedom, in the name of allegedly securing another -- clean air, this time.
My car is not obsolete, and neither is the concept of individual rights. And yet today's leaders of both parties are attempting to deprive me of both my car -- and everyone's individual rights in the process.