Wednesday, August 12

Economic indicators: Chocolate & cars

There were two articles in the August 7 edition of The Chicago Tribune that really caught my eye. The first one was a piece by Jonah Goldberg in which he discussed the economic virtues of the Cash for Clunkers program. I hadn't heard anything about this program until it was running out of money and people were discussing if Congress should throw another $2B at it.

What I learned is that buyers can get up to $4500 of taxpayer money for turning in a "clunker" to buy a more fuel efficient vehicle. The dealer has to complete a lot of paperwork for Uncle Sam and prove the clunker has been destroyed or rendered undriveable, and then Uncle Sam will, eventually, process the paperwork and reimburse the dealer. Well, you know that is going to happen with remarkable inefficiency. Federal government + paperwork = endless bureaucratic inefficiencies. I'd heard a piece on the radio--NPR, I think--in which auto recyclers were interviewed and they were more than a little miffed about having to euthanize perfectly good vehicles. The engine, apparently, is the most expensive part of the car. Dealers have to pour a silica mixture into the engine and run it until it seizes. That way there is no chance of any kind of skullduggery about recycling clunkers and trying to get an extra $4500 out of Uncle Sam for the same car. I get that, but I do have to wonder if the engines couldn't be rebuilt somehow to be more fuel efficient or if they couldn't serve some other purpose that practice for the car compactor guy.

Regardless of Mr. Goldberg's observations, and I do agree that I'm not sure there was a lot of thoughtful analysis of unintended consequences of the Cash for Clunkers program--like the fact that it would run when Ford was in its summer production hiatus which meant that Ford dealerships would have a hard time replenishing their car stock which seems a little counterproductive to me. I'm not alone in thinking the program falls a bit short. Natasha Bishop explains the program, and why it doesn't work and David Sanger of the New York Times offers considerable more insight than I.

Now let's talk about chocolate, which is the more important topic anyway. There was a lovely little chocolate shop called Ethel's Chocolate Lounge. As you walked into its lovely purple environment and inhaled the delirium-inducing scents of chocolate, then gazed into the cases at delightfully hand-painted truffles and tried not to drool on the glass, it was hard not to relax at least for a little while. I read that, alas, Mars had pulled the plug on Ethel's in the Chicago area, but then I read someone has opened a place called Anna Shea's in the Arboretum in South Barrington. Of course, it's South Barrington, which is a very posh neighborhood. But she's expanded the offerings to include coffee, gelato, fondue, and wines that go with chocolates. Well then, there was an Ethel's in Deer Park, which is fairly close to my house. But the Arboretum is only about 15 or 20 minutes from my house, which is also quite close. So I suppose I shall have to go visit. If only to inhale.

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