You Can Keep Your Van if You Like It

The last of Volkswagen’s iconic vans will roll off a VW production line in Brazil later this year:

Safety regulations mandate that every vehicle in Brazil must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems starting in 2014, and the company says it cannot change production to meet the law.


My issue with the end of the VW van is effectively the same as an issue with the Affordable Care Act. By mandating the one-size-fits-all solution (in this case, that every car have air bags and anti-lock braking), it’s not just innovation that’s lost, it’s products that people like and are willing to buy despite not having Important Safety Features That Experts Agree Are Necessary. We unfortunately lose many choices we might like because someone else has decided we need something else even more.

Brazilian lawmakers could trumpet this safety equipment as a lifesaver while simultaneously crowing that the change would not affect commercial production of any popular products. They’d be wrong on the last part, of course, but because the cascading effects in the economics of these situations makes it a challenge for most people to piece together causes and effects, they retain plausible deniability.

In the case of the Affordable Care Act’s claimed lack of any substantive impact on every single last doggone insurance plan, when an insurer or employer makes the calculation that offering certain insurance products (or offering them to certain low-productivity employees) won’t be profitable, ACA supporters get to grouse to their fans that these companies are emblems of vanishing public spiritedness and the entrepreneur’s crass focus on the bottom line.

In any case, wouldn’t you love to drive one of these things?