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Here the Evidence Is Clear

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

I join Jeff Green in scolding the National Resources Defense Council’s Roland Hwang for insisting that among the justifications for higher mandated fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles is the alleged fact that, in Mr. Hwang’s words, “Americans want cars with better mileage” (Letters, Dec. 17).

While recognizing that ethical values cannot be determined solely by science, I agree unreservedly with those who demand that government policies (whatever the values that drive these policies) be ever-consistent with scientific tenets – that these policies be based on empirical evidence, interpreted as objectively as is humanly possible – that these policies be “reality-based.”

Fortunately in this case the objective evidence is overwhelming: Americans, in fact, do not want cars with better mileage.  If they did value higher mileage more than they value the money or the other features (such as ample legroom) that they must sacrifice to get higher mileage, Americans would already be supplied with higher-mileage vehicles.  Automakers have as much incentive to satisfy any demands for vehicles that feature higher mileage as they have to satisfy demands for vehicles that feature, say, more cup holders and better MP3 connectivity.

Mr. Hwang’s claim that “Americans want cars with better mileage” insults the intelligence of us proud members of the reality-based community.

Donald J. Boudreaux

UPDATE: Anticipating the direction that debate might take in the comments section, I humbly offer this 1997 essay of mine on different meanings of the verb “to want.