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It’s interesting what we subsidize

October 7, 2006

So, this year I’ve resumed riding my bicycle in a big way. The main reason is that I am tired of being out of shape, and biking does good things for my blood pressure and blood chemistry. I don’t really save that much money, because if I drive, it is a Honda Civic, and thus I don’t clean the air up much either. Each day I don’t drive to work, is worth about a gallon of gasoline. It’d be nice if I could get an incremental refund on my auto insurance — it would cost about the same — but no dice.

It’s interesting what we subsidize. If I spent a bunch of money and bought a hybrid auto, I’d get various tax incentives. The hybrid’s mileage isn’t that much better than the Civic, and I save about as much gasoline by riding my bike to work twice a week. You’d think that you should get a similar subsidy for riding a my bike, but no.

If I go to the doctor and get a prescription for slow-release niacin (for increasing good HDL cholesterol), my medical insurance subsidizes my purchase. But, if I ride my bike to work twice a week, in a few months I get three times the increase in HDL that I got from a year of niacin. But, no subsidy.

I’m not about to quit riding my bike just because nobody wants to subsidize it; it’s nice to lose 20 pounds, it’s nice to be much more fit, it’s nice to have all the “we’ve got to do something about that” blood metrics taken care of in a few short months. But, if you want to know what businesses and governments care about, look where they spend their money. Talk is cheap. If we cared that much about health, your insurance company would pay you to ride your bike — after all, they’ll pay for drugs that don’t work nearly as well. If we really cared about saving gasoline, the government would pay you to ride your bike — a hybrid still consumes some gasoline, a bike consumes none.

The hybrid subsidy is especially unusual — I burn about 300 gallons of gasoline a year, and if I drove a hybrid, I might save 120 of the gallons (40% reduction). After ten years, 1200 gallons saved, and it is apparently worth well over a dollar per gallon of someone else’s tax money as an incentive to me. It’s the same as paying me a dollar each day I ride my bicycle to work and back, or increasing the gas tax by an additional dollar per gallon.

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