In a country that equates bigger with better, it’s no surprise that our ride of choice is the Sports Utility Vehicle.
In 2001, 52 percent of all new automobiles purchased were gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks and vans.
In 2002, four million were sold nationwide.
In an era when fuel-efficient, hybrid gas- and electric-powered vehicles are readily available, Americans, now more than ever, are invoking that long-heralded tenant of capitalism–freedom of choice.
And so is the president.
In 2001, President Bush refused to regulate the fuel efficiency of SUVs.
He came around last year, mandating that each model improve its fuel efficiency by a modest 1.5 mile per gallon by 2007, but said that any more regulation would prevent an open marketplace.
Now, less than two years later, Bush is no longer a champion of this lasseiz-faire approach.
In January, Bush announced that part of his economic stimulus package would include a 50 percent tax rebate on the purchase of SUVs by business owners.
That means that doctors can make house calls in their Range Rovers, and the government will help pay for it.
With this extra incentive to purchase SUVs, rather than smaller, more fuel-efficient company cars, Bush has eliminated any remnants of an open marketplace.
The tax code caps deductions for all other automobiles well below 50 percent, but SUVs are exempt from the code, because it was written in the 1980s before
SUVs even existed.
The tax break was granted for vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds fully loaded.
But what policy makers intended to exempt were pickup trucks that were needed on work sites.
Instead of making the distinction between SUVs and pickups, which would require a mere stroke of a pen, Bush is exploiting this loophole into millions of bonus dollars for the U.S. auto industry; an industry that, with this kind of government backing, is finding it much more profitable to produce SUVs than any other type of vehicle.
But in taking care of Detroit, Bush is also looking out for himself and his bedfellows in the oil business.
The average SUV gets only 18 miles per gallon, and with this added subsidy, Bush is in business.
As the demand for oil goes up, so will the urgency for war with Iraq, and so will the “need” to drill in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
As for those of us who don’t have the power to earmark government money for our own kickbacks, we must question our role in SUV mania.
Why are we all driving them? Is it because we feel safer in vehicles of large size? (Even though SUVs are much more likely to overturn in emergency maneuvers).
Is it because we need a big, tough car for our rugged, off-road excursions to the mall? Or is it because Americans care little for the environment?
Are we so self-involved that we don’t care that we are poisoning the air for the generations that will follow us?
Whatever it is, our infatuation with SUVs makes one thing clear.
Our ability to logically reason is dictated in part by the economic system that promotes this sort of thing–the biggest and the best for us right now.
But maybe our economic system isn’t compatible with our political system after all.
Democracy would have us making the decision that is best for everyone.
Ignoring environmentally sound technology, poisoning our air and rapidly depleting our natural resources isn’t best, no matter what Bush wants us to think.
Jesse Chadderdon can be reached at email@example.com.