This is one of the dumbest ad hominem arguments I’ve seen in a major newspaper for quite a while:
>My younger son calls the Toyota Prius a “hippie car,” and he has a point. Not that Prius drivers are hippies. Toyota says that typical buyers are 54 and have incomes of $99,800; 81 percent are college graduates. But, like hippies, they’re making a loud lifestyle statement: We’re saving the planet; what are you doing?
>This helps explain why the Prius so outsells the rival Honda Civic Hybrid. Both have similar base prices, about $22,000, and fuel economy (Prius, 60 miles per gallon city/51 highway; Civic, 49 mpg city/51 highway). But Prius sales in the first half of 2007 totaled 94,503, nearly equal to all of 2006. Civic sales were only 17,141, up 7.4 percent from 2006. The Prius’s advantage is its distinct design, which announces its owners as environmentally virtuous. It’s a fashion statement. Meanwhile, the Civic hybrid can’t be distinguished by appearance from the polluting, gas-guzzling mob.
The dumb thing is that Samuelson doesn’t even disagree with the idea of cutting greenhouse gas emissions (he’s not a George Will global warming denier). Later in the piece he argues that very drastic things ought to be done:
>But we’ve got to start somewhere, right? Okay, here’s what Congress should do: (a) gradually increase fuel economy standards for new vehicles by at least 15 miles per gallon; (b) raise the gasoline tax over the same period by $1 to $2 a gallon to strengthen the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and curb driving; (c) eliminate tax subsidies (mainly the mortgage interest rate deduction) for housing, which push Americans toward ever-bigger homes. (Note: If you move to a home 25 percent larger and then increase energy efficiency 25 percent, you don’t save energy.)
Samuelson’s problem is that actions such as driving a Prius are not adequate by themselves to curb the accumulation of greenhouse gases. He uses his son’s hippie comment (why are people beating up on hippies now?) to impugn the motives of people who advocate measures that are partial or inadequate. They only do so because it’s fashionable. They don’t really want to curb global warming because they don’t wish for the hard things.
There doesn’t, however, seem to be any reason to think that. At least none that Samuelson offers. And it’s probably the case that no one thinks such measures (driving a Prius vs. a Honda Hybrid) are adequate in the first place. But just because such individual actions are inadequate by themselves, doesn’t mean they and the people who do them are shallow and worthless.