How Blessed Is the State That Thus Destroyeth the Car
Jeffrey A. Tucker
by Jeffrey A. Tucker: McDonald's
as the Paradigm of Progress
state was born and built with the idea that it would bring material
progress to the world.
have changed! Now the same state works to reverse progress in every
possible way and even brag about the glorious things it is doing
to make our lives more miserable.
It even has
the chutzpah to tout that it alone can beat back our constant struggle
to have a better life, and it expects us to thank our masters for
this and pay for the privilege.
These are thoughts
that hit me as I read the New York Times report "Across
Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy." Yes, that's right:
policies are not trying to make driving easier and less of a problem
but harder and more of a problem so that people will
abandon their cars and hoof it just like life before the invention
of the wheel.
the ability to hop into a driver-directed steel contraption that
can take us wherever we want to go at 200 miles per hour has to
count as one of the great accomplishments in the history of mankind.
The unleashing of human volition! For 100 years now, wherever we
find progress, joy, and human fulfillment, we find the car. The
car has very nearly conquered the great problems presented by the
existence of scarcity of time and space, and made us able to achieve
essential tasks. We work, live, shop, and travel where we want and
get to each place in a fraction of the time it took our ancestors.
So what does
the state do? It tries to stop it all. European governments are
"creating urban environments openly hostile to cars,"
says the Times. "The methods vary, but the mission is
clear to make car use expensive and just plain miserable
enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes
leaders even aware that they are merely reviving Chairman Mao's
transportation plan? When he came to power in 1950, he declared
China to be zixingche de guo, the Kingdom of Bicycles. The
bike was one of three items that every citizen must own (the other
two: a watch and a sewing machine). It was supposed to be a great
symbol of equality and of the citizen's willingness to use their
own muscle power to work for the triumph of socialism.
And so it is
all over Europe, where streets are being closed, parking lots torn
up, and fuel taxed to the point where it is unaffordable. In many
places, speed limits are being reduced to a walking pace, and, in
others, cars are being banned completely. The idea is not to build
the great socialist utopia but rather to "save the environment"
and to heck with the actual well-being of human beings who
pay the bills that make these states live and thrive.
And all of
this for the environment? That's not the only reason. They also
say that the roads are too narrow to handle high car traffic, since
most date from before the car age. That's strange: city roads in
the United States are also pre-car but Americans, like entrepreneur
Brigham Young who built Salt Lake, thought to make them wide enough
for covered wagons to make U-turns. Mostly, the real reason is that
"urban planners" just don't like them and so they "generally
agree that a rise in car commuting is not desirable for cities anywhere."
with "urban planners" as
Jane Jacobs saw is that they do not think of people as
individuals with interests who act according to their own plans
with a resulting spontaneous order that makes cities great. Instead,
they want to plan with a bird's-eye view of the place and force
everyone to comply whether it makes people miserable or not. In
the worst case, these planners are secretly horrified by the sight
of millions of people living well and doing their own thing, and,
like Chairman Mao, cry out for what they believe should be a more
the power of the contemporary state which is destroying prosperity
and civilizational advance because, as it turns out, doing this
is the only thing it is good at the urban planners are accomplishing
their goal, but to what end? Is reversing a century of progress
a good way to make life better? The planners think so, because they
have a different idea of what life should be like. They want the
city to be more like an ant farm than a place for choosing, dreaming,
and accomplishing. The static existence of workers and peasants
under communism seems much more to their liking.
story suggests that it is very different in the United States, where
the planners think cars are just fine. But this is not so. The war
on the car dates back a half century. Not even the interstate highways
were really built for cars. They were built for military trucks
to roll around the country and control it in the event of an invasion
or an uprising. The car has never really had friends in government.
The car is a product of private markets, used by individuals to
accomplish individual goals.
about my new book, It's
a Jetsons World, I've mentioned that if government didn't
own the streets and so heavily regulate transportation innovation,
we might already have flying cars by now. The claim can't be proven
or disproven, but that's the way it is in a world lacking in verifiable
claims about what might exist in the absence of government controls
and punishments on innovation and production.
But think of
how little progress is actually taking place even where the car
is mildly tolerated.
A new Honda
Accord zipped by me the other day, and I confused it for a Lexus,
and a new Lexus zipped by that looked pretty much like my 1995 Accord,
and then it occurred to me: is the car really improving or are we
cycling through body styles the way we cycle through tie widths?
That's what companies do in sectors in which consumers want only
innovation in style but not structure (men's clothing). But that's
not true in transportation. Yes, there are new safety features and
cool built-ins in the new models. But why do the "concept cars"
of the main carmakers never make it to the roads? And why do some
people claim that the car has never been better than it was some
50 years ago? What innovations are we missing out on?
A vast central
plan really does govern the production of cars for sale in the United
States. There are Corporate
Average Fuel Economy standards, regulations on everything from
tires to air conditioning, federal mandates on safety and engine
size, and many thousands of other issues. There's not a part of
the car that isn't subject to something or other, all the way down
to the exact shape of the error lights in the dashboard. How much
room for innovation really remains?
is as Bastiat said of the mixed economy. We will never know for
sure what innovations never became a living part of our economic
world because regulations hamstrung the innovators. We will never
know for sure what kind of material blessings might have come our
way had it not been for the daily looting of capital and creativity
that takes place under the rule of Leviathan.
has always been the enemy of progress, even when it claimed to be
its friend. In more recent history, we are hearing increasingly
honest statements from the people in charge. They want regress and
they are giving it to us good and hard. If this keeps up, the only
land with real progress will be the one created in the digital universe,
where the planners are either too slow or too stupid to regulate
us back to the Stone Age they envision as their ideal.
Tucker [send him mail]
is editorial vice president of www.Mises.org.
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