Joe Biden showed up on a Detroit picket line Tuesday to support a strike by local auto workers. Meanwhile a discordant intuition, if not yet a complete thought, was forming in the minds of many of his backers: If the United Auto Workers union succeeds in its aims, it will gobble up funds needed to sustain Mr. Biden’s government-mandated transition to electric vehicles.
These proto-dissenters are right even if they probably don’t fully understand why. The union likes to point to the recent anomalous profits at Ford, GM and Chrysler, but the union really has its eye on what are better defined as “rents”—an economics term for the excess margins the companies have enjoyed on their domestically built pickup trucks and large SUVs thanks to a 25% import tariff in place since 1964.
In some years, these rents materialize as accounting profits; in other years they are fully absorbed by the cost of building money-losing cars mandated by Washington, most recently electric cars. Either way, more for the UAW inevitably means less to subsidize these so-called compliance vehicles.
Additionally, a second stream of “rents” has lately appeared in the form of direct federal handouts to builders and buyers of EVs. UAW chief Shawn Fain makes no bones about wanting to get his hands on these rents too: “If the government is going to funnel billions in taxpayer money to these companies, the workers must be compensated with top wages and benefits.”
Have no illusion. The union is engaged in a financial negotiation, however filigreed with talk of workers vs. the capitalist class. Mr. Fain also has a strategic motive: If battery production for EVs is allowed to take root in nonunion plants, it will accelerate the doom of the government-sanctioned UAW labor monopoly over the Big Three. That monopoly is already self-liquidating, but slowly, as U.S. auto manufacturing increasingly takes place in foreign-owned factories not subject to union control.
But now the UAW faces a new risk from normally friendly territory. A meme is rolling: The union’s largely white, working-class membership, already suspected of Trumpist sympathies, stands in the way of the EV transition that has become a major progressive fetish.
The EV transition is a climate fraud for many reasons. As understood even by top Biden officials (though don’t expect them to say so on the record), subsidizing “green” energy doesn’t actually cause other forms of energy to remain unconsumed and therefore has little or no effect on emissions.
On his best day, however, Joe Biden was never a politician from whom you expected a deep understanding of government policy and its effects. Even less, at age 80, is he thinking about the long-term sustainability of anything right now. He’s thinking about Michigan’s 15 electoral votes.
This is one place where UAW leadership, in its political cynicism, sees more clearly than its allies or critics. The strike can only have one ending, requiring even more interventions in the future to keep the UAW-staffed companies afloat. LBJ’s pickup tariff to block the import of a VW light truck was only the first. In 1979-80, Jimmy Carter bailed out Chrysler with loan guarantees. Ronald Reagan connived with the Japanese over import restrictions. The colossal 2008-09 auto bailout came with Obama and Bush fingerprints.
Mr. Biden’s “EV transition” itself is a Potemkin arrangement of government words to conceal billions in taxpayer aid to the UAW-controlled companies. Recall President Obama’s similar promise of 54.5-mpg cars, his way of disguising an emissions carve-out that continues to enable today’s inflated SUV and pickup profits for domestic manufacturers under the so-called chicken tax (look it up).
Even a vow by California and nine other states to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars after 2035 is an exercise in political dissembling, embodied in a rulemaking that can be waved away, rather than in legislation. This promise will disappear into the mists when elected officials eventually discover that voters who were willing to indulge a pro-climate talking point aren’t willing to have their choice of vehicles severely restricted.
Mr. Biden may not be clinically senile, but his limited personal stake in the future makes him unlikely to admit or care about the expensive phoniness of America’s climate and auto-regulation policies. The country needs a non-senile president, one who genuinely cares about America’s condition 20, 30, 40 years in the future. It also needs a non-senile news media, devoted to penetrating reality and accurately reflecting it. Today’s understanding of climate science and climate policy is so catastrophically poor, so addicted to virtue signaling, that it’s less than worthless to the public. Change this and politicians might rediscover an incentive to be more truthful and rational in the things they promise.
I don’t subscribe to everything in the piece but I do think he touches on a number of interesting points and it is thought-provoking.
As an example of something in it with which I do not entirely agree, my own view of EVs is that hybrids and EVs are vehicles well-suited to a particular niche, e.g. well-to-do urban commuters in places like Chicago where most of the electricity is derived from nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar, and similar sources. Electric trains would probably be an even better choice where they already exist. With present technology hybrids are probably a better choice than EVs.