The guiding fiscal principle of President Obama’s 2009 Stimulus Package was simple: “Spend it as fast as you can.” Programs operating under that principle are almost predestined to flunk a cost-benefit test—and the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has proved to be no exception. University of Chicago researchers have documented that WAP is yet another government “efficiency” program that does not actually save money. The only surprising finding was just how badly it failed. Costs exceeded benefits by a 2-to-1 margin.
The fundamental problem with energy-efficiency mandates and subsidies is that they are based on two absurd premises. First, they assume that consumers are not fully interested in saving money—hence, government intervention is required. Second, they expect a bureaucracy that has served up an $18 trillion national debt to transform into Scrooge McDuck when it is time to count energy pennies.
That consumers want to save money should be obvious. Car ads tout fuel economy numbers. Contractors peddle energy-saving home improvements. Entire websites are devoted to identifying the gas stations with the lowest prices. Indeed, even the operators of the federal government’s own voluntary Energy Star program regularly brag about consumer enthusiasm for saving money on energy—voluntarily and without subsidies.