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I was born and raised in Detroit, so cars have always been in my blood. My grandfather worked in the auto industry in its earliest days. He was a coach maker in his native Russia and came to Detroit to make wooden car bodies for a company known as Fisher Body. Last month, I went with my family to the St. Louis Auto show at America’s Center. It might be my imagination, but the place looked a bit subdued from the auto shows of the past. It felt like the auto companies were holding back on the glitz and glitter. It made sense. The auto stimulus package was under discussion and auto-execs were blasted with criticism about arriving in corporate jets.
Half the fun of going to the auto show is looking at the sticker prices of the most expensive cars. You can learn a great deal. For instance, on one foreign-made luxury sedan with a price tag in excess of $100,000, a window shade for the back window is extra. You would think they could just throw that in to make the sale.
Fuel efficiency is another set of numbers revealed on the sticker. The guzzlers were on the edges of displays and the hybrids were the centers of attention. The gas guzzler tax is a rather interesting concept. It basically says that if you want to go around consuming enormous quantities of fuel, go ahead, but you will pay a tax for doing so. Perhaps that same concept of “pay to flaunt” as in pay to flaunt your wealth or lack of sensitivity should be applied to other sectors of our economy. I would start with executive pay. If you are taking government bail-out money and wish to get paid over $500,000, your company should have to contribute one dollar for each dollar over 500K you receive into a national education trust fund. Gas taxes build our roads. Why shouldn’t excessive executive pay build our schools?
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.