Thursday, November 16, 2023

CAFE in the News.

I’m periodically reminded of the old fairytale regarding the emperor's new clothes. In a collective, absurd application of groupthink, a huge portion of people take what they’re fed, and believe merely to believe.

A recent Reuters news article outlined how the government may change its math in order to manipulate policy and market performance regarding cars. It is reminiscent of the solution proposed for the obesity crisis: simply redefine “obesity.“ See What's in a Name (August 2020). If you find yourself with too many people overweight, "Don’t raise the bridge lower the river." That said, if there are flaws then perhaps they should be corrected. See The BMI Conundrum (August 2022). That would be for the scientific flaws, not for the groupthink. 

Similarly, the government is considering a new calculation for the "fuel economy equivalent" for electric vehicles. In the way back, 1975, the federal government imposed CAFE standards on vehicle manufacturers' fleets. This essentially means that the average fuel economy for all of the cars manufactured by XYZ car company is averaged to determine what the fleet performance is. The bureaucrats pick a number and then enforce it. Car companies shift production and pricing of the overall fleet to both meet the central committee's mandate and make a profit. 

And the various manufacturers strive to have positive numbers in the CAFE category, to avoid the imposition of government penalties. Whether you knew it or not, the attributes and performance of your vehicle have been dictated by market forces, but also by government, information, and interference. Their involvement is worthy of any good socialist state, though not communism as the U.S. government would never own the means of production. Marie Antoinette might’ve been proud. But, this, perhaps begs the question, is math math, or is math politics?

The government admits openly that the CAFE standards, at least in part, are designed with "Incentives for electric vehicles," as well as natural gas, hybrids, and more. With its purportedly superior viewpoint and perspective, the government decides what it thinks is best for the citizens. Remember the citizens granted government its authority. That government then it manipulates the market to achieve what it deems best for us. 

Notably, there are various economic forms in the world. According to Investopedia:
"A command economy is one where production and employment is largely dictated by a central authority, such as a national government."
Often associated with communist regimes, a command economy focuses on macroeconomic objectives while individual economic freedom is often limited. That sounds familiar. 

Socialism is a near cousin, without the government ownership of communism. Britannica says socialism is:
"social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources"
Production may not be directed by the U.S. government, but with fines imposed on producers, perhaps the path to such direction is laid. Through regulation, we are encouraged to purchase this rather than that. There is freedom, but at a price, and according to government rules. If you buy a sedan that does not meet CAFE standards, there is a special tax. That tax does not apply to minivans, trucks, and more. Corvette - tax, minivan with same MPG estimate - no tax. Government encouragement to buy this, not that. 

So, if the Reuters article is accurate, why would the government change its math at this stage? The government came up with a "petroleum-equivalent fuel economy rating for electric and plug-in electric hybrids." This is a method of determining fuel efficiency for vehicles that either do not consume fuel (pure fiction, at best they consume energy created elsewhere than the vehicle), or combine their use of fuel with energy produced elsewhere (not in the vehicle), but also likely produced with some fuel, whether directly or not.

The U.S. Department of Energy says:
"Encouraging adoption of EVs can reduce petroleum consumption but giving too much credit for that adoption can lead to increased net petroleum use because it enables lower fuel economy among conventional vehicles, which represent by far the majority of vehicles sold."
That says. essentially, that if the formula for EVs lowers a fleet average too much, then the car company can build more big vehicles with lower MPG and still remain in the CAFE sweet zone. That says it is not the accuracy of the EV formula (reality) that matters, it is the effect of the central control on overall consumption that matters. This shift lays bare any contention that there is science to the process, specifically to the EV formula. The only point is the social engineering, the socialism, and the control or influence of the marketplace. 

If the ultimate goal, as expressed in this article, is to increase the percentage of electric vehicles, on the road, why not simply count each electric vehicle as two cars (or three). Don't like that math, then count each one as three-fifths of a car. The math can either way. That of course seems absurd. But, is that any more absurd than adjusting the math that is used for this equivalency? The process is not a forward calculation that assesses the contribution and value of components and yields a result. The government's process appears instead to be a result that is dictated, and then a backward progression through the math to yield what the value assigned to inputs should be. 

And, in the end, every vehicle consumes energy. You can convert gasoline to energy in your car. You can fill your car with electricity (largely generated by converting gas or coal to energy and transmitted to you over a wire). Certainly, some electricity is "green." About 20% of it according to your government. Can we count on their math there, or is it creative as well? Once math becomes creative in one instance, can we count on the math in any instance?

And as much as some Americans are eager to “follow the science," will they be forgiving of this numerical manipulation? If the use of an electric or hybrid car renders a particular mileage equivalence, then each vehicle's performance can be rated using that formula and the result is what it is. Math is math: 2 + 2 = 4. The result is the same every time. Change a variable in this formula and the outcome can change. But, the math remains the same.

The government says instead, we need the outcome to be 6. Well, 2  + 2 does not equal six. The fuel economy of the petroleum vehicles (the first 2) is mathematical. At least the bureaucrats are not trying to force some change to the way adding numbers and averaging works. So, the second 2 is the key. Essentially, the bureaucrats are going to regulate that second 2 is now a 4. Bingo, we got to six. How did you come up with 4? we might ask. The answer is simple. They made it up. Not with science. Not with math. It is made up of smoke, mirrors, emotions, and feelings. Made up not by scientists, but by socialists seeking to influence or control our consumption. 

It is perhaps disingenuous to suggest that the vehicle fuel efficiency comparison mathematics have changed. The Department of Energy is proposing changes in the math. According to Reuters, this is driven at least in part by evolution in the process of generating and distributing electricity. That might change the value of a variable, but should not change the math. The article notes that there has been criticism of the calculations by "environmental groups." They claim that "fuel economy ratings for EVs" is inconsistent. In fact, these groups actively petitioned the government for the proposed change.

That said, altering the calculations is manipulative, and fosters distrust. Time, and again, we see government standards that are based upon good public relations, and poor science. Another fantastic example is the food pyramid published in the 1990s and preached to young people everywhere. See Disease or Choice (March 2023). According to some, it was flawed from the start. Just as flawed as the "Basic Seven" that was proposed in the 1940s. Right or wrong, it was the government, and lobbyists, telling people how to eat.

Yes, the government has been telling us how to eat for almost 100 years. And obesity is off the charts and growing

The government has been directing the automobile market for decades, and effectively driving the supply of vehicles. Why do consumers purchase trucks? In some part, it has been because the CAFE standards encourage the production and sale of larger vehicles, according to some. Through changes in definition, larger vehicles were excluded from CAFE for a time, and thus producers were not discouraged from building/selling them. There is a profit incentive, coupled with the absence of CAFE disincentive, and viola, bigger cars. 

At the end of the day, government has demonstrated itself largely unable to follow the science. It has followed the groupthink, followed the sentiment, and perhaps even followed the money (some suggest a suspicion that money and lobbyists influence policy occasionally). Government has regulated, legislated, and frustrated over time. The socialistic elements in government, such as CAFE and food pyramids are likely intractable and irreversible. The age of government direction and control is likely here to stay. That said, would anyone feel better if the government actually followed the science once in a while?