“This bill will make the lives of hardworking Americans better,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who sponsored the House version of the legislation. “It will help level the playing field and restore balance to credit-card contracts.”
People who ring up big bills on credit cards pay pretty high interest rates -- there is no doubt about it. There are others who pay their bills in full each month and don't pay any interest at all. The banks that issue credit cards make a lot of their money on transaction fees that they charge merchants, which is one reason why many merchants will offer a discount to cash buyers. The card issuers make the rest on interest payments from cardholders. So what is going to happen now that Congress and the President have decided to stop the credit card companies from charging as much interest?
Banks under the legislation will be prevented from pricing for risk, said Edward Yingling, president and chief executive officer of the American Bankers Association, said in a statement. Short-term unsecured loans will be turned into riskier, medium-term loans, and the bill will mean less available credit.In other words, the benefits of a credit card (convenience, not having to carry cash, etc.) will be harder to obtain. And there will also be a return to annual fees and potentially the elimination of grace periods for charging interest, meaning that even those customers who pay their bills in full each month will now be charged interest. So what does it mean? Credit cards will be more expensive for everyone.
Then we have the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard, a federal mandate that forces automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars. The standard had not changed for a number of years, but President Obama changed it this week, raising the standard from the current 27.5 miles per gallon up to 42 in 2016. It's all seashells and balloons, according to environmentalist groups:
In introducing tough new CAFE measures the Obama administration is hoping to kill three birds with one stone: Resolve outstanding litigation by the Big Three automakers; enhance the administration’s international credibility in the fight to slow climate change; and offer struggling US automakers a chance at salvation by embracing cutting edge technologies.
And it appears that it’s going to work. US automakers are lining up behind President Obama’s initiative to set CAFE standards for new cars at 42mpg by 2016 — even though it means that they must improve fuel efficiency by 5% per year over the next six years. That’s a formidable challenge for an industry that has been all about power and speed decades. But automakers seem heartened by having a roadmap, stimulus funding, and an ally in the President who is working to help them meet the challenges of a low-carbon economy.
Chrysler is bankrupt and GM probably will be soon enough, but they are heartened to have a chance to enhance the administration's international credibility. It is good to have your priorities in order. But there is a little problem with this lovely scenario:
To improve fuel economy, auto makers primarily reduce the size and power of
vehicles. Unfortunately, this downsizing has tragic consequences (See Figure) . As far back as 1989, consumer advocate Ralph Nader admitted that "larger cars are safer - there is more bulk to protect the occupant." Numerous studies have proved this point. For example:
Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that, on average, for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents - or a total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives lost per model year. [See the figure.]
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data indicate that 322 additional deaths per year occur as a direct result of reducing just 100 pounds from already downsized small cars, with half of the deaths attributed to small car collisions with light trucks/sport utility vehicles.
Using data from the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety, USA Today calculated that size and weight reductions of passenger vehicles undertaken to meet current CAFE standards had resulted in more than 46,000 deaths.
Since the laws of physics will not change, requiring all vehicles to be smaller increases everyone's overall risk of death or injury in auto accidents. Insurance data bear this out; occupants of small cars do worse than passengers of larger sedans, minivans or sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in every kind of accident.
So yeah, people might die, maybe even thousands of them each year. If you want to make a tasty omelet in the CAFE, you need to break a few eggs, right? And if you drive at all, or are even a passenger in a vehicle, you know exactly what this means. In a crash between a Prius and a Suburban, the Suburban will win every time.
I guess Congress and the President can live with those deaths. Good to know. Meanwhile, it's always worth remembering what P. J. O'Rourke said -- the one law that always gets passed in Washington is law of unintended consequences.