Charles Lane of the Washington Post comments on the electric car fiasco, discussing the multiple failures of government investments and the disappointing performance and sales of the vehicles. The occasion is the disastrous roadtrip in a Tesla described by John M. Broder in the New York Times. What interests me is not electric cars but the category of error that Lane identifies:
I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.
Rather, the debacle is a case study in unchecked righteousness. The administration assumed the worthiness and urgency of its goals. Americans should want electric cars, and therefore they would, apparently.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.
The department has recently backed away from the million-car target, in favor of reducing battery costs to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015 (from $650 today). Even this seems dubious, given the APS symposium’s view that “only incremental improvements can be expected” in lithium-ion batteries.
Chu is on his way out but still dreaming. “For the engineers in the room or those who follow this, you might be saying to yourself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ” he remarked at the Washington Auto Show. “We’re not smoking anything. They are ambitious goals but they are achievable goals.”
I might add that Chu does not own a car.
What are other manifestations of “unchecked righteousness,” the jump from assuming that because people should do something, they will?