Decaffeinated

WSJ Holman Jenkins’ column today (1/9/2008) , Decaffeinated, caught my eye — I knew it would be interesting and I particularly like the catchy headlines (I wonder who writes them?) found all throughout the WSJ. The title is, of course, a play on the term CAFE — Corporate Average Fuel Economy — and nothing to do with coffee.

As usual, I more agree than disagree with his analysis. But it’s what he leaves out that irritates me, and his proposals to remediate the situation mainly are to do nothing.

He says that CAFE in general, and the new standards signed into law to great fanfare recently are simply not going to do anything to reduce fuel use. This is quite correct. Raising the cost of fuel — a proposition on which he is mum — would be a much more efficient alternative and would actually accomplish the intention of CAFE.

He then veers off, claiming that were auto-makers to invest in perfecting and introducing technological solutions that, say, half of the lives currently lost on highways each year could be saved. And that the reason they can’t do so is because they are (will be?) forced into diverting all their funds into fuel-economy measures. The half figure may or may not be true, but in any event is a false choice. From what I know about the auto industry their druthers would be to do neither, not either-or.

Still, he is quite brave in even pointing out something that should be obvious — the vast majority of traffic deaths are caused by errant drivers: “Driver error is blamed for 95% of crashes, with 25% due specifically to driver distraction (such as yammering into a cell phone)…”.

Here is a short list of things he neglects regarding externalized costs of automobile use: free parking, crashes, (toxic) air pollution, road congestion, etc… He has spent much ink in past columns deriding the Prius but never mentioning or perhaps doesn’t know that the Prius not only uses far less fuel, it emits 75% LESS toxic pollution — but when nobody “pays” for these emissions it apparently doesn’t count.