To listen to the mainstream media’s coverage of the so-called war on women, you’d think the entire election will be won or lost, based on contraception and its availability. But women care passionately about other issues—such as energy, too. Last week, the Independence Institute held a debate organized by, featuring, and for women—about energy. Four of us sparred for 90 minutes. We would have kept at it far longer had the moderator, a woman, not brought it to a close. Each of us had much more to say.
The debate was billed as “Minivan or Smart Car.” We discussed car choice and CAFE Standards, safety, and public transportation. Our opinions represented very different world views. Two of us generally favored less government/more freedom. Two advocated for more government involvement for the greater good. All four of us firmly believed in our positions.
Our viewpoints parallel the greater divide in America, the divide that will ultimately decide the election.
Through these two very different views on energy, that even women care about, one can view the election. I’ll call one side Freedom and the other side Government (with a capitol G). These are huge subjects, but here’s a review of the real debate. This isn’t just the debate that took place on October 10 in Denver, Colorado, it is representative of the bigger debate going on throughout America.
Car Choice and CAFE Standards
Hyundai had an ad campaign that sums up the Freedom side of the argument: “It’s not that complicated, if gas costs a lot of money, we’ll build cars that use less of it.” Bottom line, if the consumer demands higher fuel efficiency cars, manufacturers will build them because they are what sells. America was at a competitive disadvantage in the fuel-efficiency category. Did they step up to the plate because government created mandates known as CAFE Standards or because people wanted better MPG? Obviously Government and Freedom would hold different sides of this debate.
The CAFE Standards took away public choice. Yes, some people wanted smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient cars. Freedom says consumer demand would have forced the car companies to produce them without government interference. But, the CAFE Standards killed what was the staple vehicle of its day: the station wagon. The CAFE Standards—which stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy—required that all the vehicles in the passenger car fleet meet certain fuel efficiency standards. The big, heavy station wagon that hauled the family got maybe 10 MPG. It had to go. New little, lighter vehicles replaced it. The fleet average now met the government mandate. But families still needed transporting. Enter, the minivan. Built on a truck frame, it was exempt from the original standards. Consumer demand created a way around the mandates.
Freedom believes that CAFE Standards are an outmoded model, based on the idea that there is an oil shortage—therefore we need to be forced to use less of it. Apparently, Government isn’t aware of the vast resources in Alaska, North Dakota, or the Green River Formation.
Government vehemently proclaims: “There is no way the US can produce all the oil to drive all our cars.” Therefore, we need electric cars—and, yes, government should “incentivize” the entrance of this new concept into the mature market. This, Government believes, will produce greater technology, more jobs, and a robust economy. Plus, better fuel efficiency and electric cars means less oil consumption and “every bit of oil we don’t put in our cars makes us independent.”
The Government side argues that no one tells you what to drive or buy and that CAFE Standards provided the incentive to make better cars. This way government encourages technology. Using the argument that we all have a house full of different chargers for our electronic devices, Government believes there should be a mandated standard.
Because the CAFE Standards forced the creation of lighter, smaller vehicles, Freedom believes safety is compromised—mass matters. “Smaller cars, by physics, kill people.”
Government posited that it is not the size that matters but the engineering—after all look at NASCAR. They have fierce wrecks at high speeds and seldom is any one killed. Freedom: Yes, but at what cost? Government chirped: “An extra $2000 on a car vs. my kid in the hospital is a complete no brainer.”
Freedom, once again focuses on choice. There are very safe, expensive cars. But, “Safety isn’t free.” For many people tradeoffs are required. Many factors go into a vehicle selection and price is a big one for most people.
Plus, cars are safer in that you are less likely to get mugged than you would if you were using public transportation and walking blocks in the dark.
The mass transit topic brought up an interesting “waste” discussion. Government thinks we’ve built our society based on waste. “Our demonstration of wealth is how much space we can enclose whatever we have—bigger houses, bigger cars, fatter bodies. That’s how we demonstrate our prowess.” This mindset carries into big cars carrying one person. Government claimed that we waste time commuting—3-4 weeks a year. That really hurts the economy because driving in a car is not productive time; not contributing to the economy.
Freedom sees a car commute as flexibility. I can make phone calls (using my Bluetooth, of course), listen to educational materials, or simply adjust from the work day to home-time. Additionally, a car, vs. mass transit, saves time. We can use our time the way we want to, going directly from point A to C without having to get off at B and change tracks—and without someone else controlling when we come and go. In many cases, a car commute actually takes less time than public transportation.
Both Government and Freedom acknowledge that which works better for the individual depends on where you live—but Government advocates high density as more efficient. Freedom believes that people’s time and lives matter.
Once again, Freedom looked at the cost as everyone, through taxes, subsidizes public transportation. Government thought the tradeoff was worth it because it cuts down on emissions and fuel consumption—having a positive impact on the “commons.”
The debate rages on around water coolers, kitchen tables, and on television.
You can listen to our whole debate online. We’re more than just busy bodies; we are women discussing important issues that matter to us—and all Americans.
You can watch the Presidential debates on television. While the talking points may be different from those in our energy debate, the general themes will echo the freedom vs. government philosophies—two very different views of America. On November 6, each of us will have our say.