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The New Solutions: Wonks Gone Wild

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Problem: Too many gas-guzzlers on the road.
Solution: Offer cash for clunkers.
Detroit can’t unload its inventory, the economy’s wheezing, and there are too many inefficient cars on the road guzzling up too much oil. There might be a way to ameliorate all three problems at once: what Princeton economist Alan Blinder calls a “Cash for Clunkers” plan, in which the U.S. government would buy up (and scrap) old, pollution-spewing cars and give sellers a voucher to buy newer, more efficient models. Consumer spending goes up, the auto industry gets a shot in the arm, and the nation’s average fuel economy improves dramatically. (The voucher recipients wouldn’t even have to buy Priuses to make a difference—simply switching from an SUV that gets 10 mpg to one that gets 12 mpg actually saves more gas per mile than switching from, say, a 30 mpg sedan to a 50 mpg hybrid, since there are diminishing returns to improving gas mileage.) France recently initiated a version of this program, and has cleaner roads to show for it.

Problem: Newspapers are dying.
Solution: Offer them a Swedish-style bailout.
The Tribune Company has declared bankruptcy, the New York Times has mortgaged its headquarters to raise cash, and nearly every day another newspaper announces another round of cutbacks and layoffs. If Detroit and Wall Street can get bailouts, shouldn’t the free press get one, too? Last fall, in the Columbia Journalism Review, Bree Nordenson suggested that Congress take a gander at Sweden, where, in 1971, the government set up a system of subsidies to newspapers, allocated based on circulation and revenue data. (The formula is automatic, so that newspapers aren’t rewarded for complimentary coverage.) And it’s worked: Since then, Sweden has seen fewer news outlets shuttering, more competition in cities, and—unexpectedly—a press that’s become far more adversarial.


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