On Friday’s CBS “Early Show,” I saw a segment about a new government program that offers consumers cash rebates to replace their energy-inefficient appliances with new Energy Star–rated ones — “Cash for Appliances,” if you will. Sound familiar? Just like “Cash for Clunkers,” this program probably won’t increase the volume of sales significantly, but rather just shift the timing of these sales forward.
Some argue that this shift is the type of “stimulus” that the economy needs; after all, the money for this program was allocated from last year’s stimulus package. But will the effect of this program be worth the $300 million in taxpayer money that is being spent to finance it? I know “million” doesn’t sound like a big number anymore, with all of the billions and trillions being thrown around lately, but $300 million is still a lot of money — other people’s money. Using tax dollars to help people buy more energy-efficient machines is likely an inefficient use of funds, because purchases of these machines will become much more common within the next few years anyway, as older machines start to die. The fact that people can save money on energy costs by upgrading their appliances is already a significant incentive.
Each state has its own program, and Missouri has allotted $5.6 million in federal funding. The program will start on April 19 to coincide with the annual Show-Me Green sales tax holiday. If the funding only lasts for one day, which is likely given that Iowa’s $2.7 million ran out by 3 p.m. on the first day, no sales tax revenue would be generated. So, what genuine benefit will this expenditure have for our state? It will not add to the net state wealth, but is instead a mere transfer. Any benefit to appliance retailers will likely be very short-lived, and any arguable benefit to the state economy will be small at best. And, all the while, taxpayers will be able to watch their hard-earned money disappear down the drain into another ill-advised government program.