Sunday, October 31, 2010

Damn the automobile

There are several examples  of how this economy is organized and managed that earn the adjective stupid.
Let me cite one (because it is one of the most important): the automobile, the pollution-dispensing, oil-consuming money pit that we must have in order to live in this economy.  Almost everyone must use a car to obtain whatever they need (food, clothing, education, medical care, etc.) and to do what they must do (work, play, visit, etc.). 
Why is this so?  Possibly General Motors and the Government felt it would be mutually beneficial and good for the postwar economy to build an interstate highway system.  Of course, it was presented as necessary for National Defense.   (Let's not forget that Ike's Secretary of Defense was "Engine" Charlie Wilson, former CEO of GM.)
If that sounds too conspiratorial for your taste, perhaps it was the working of "the unseen hand", that magical invisible property that moves the free market system described by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.
Conspiracy or magic?  Take your choice.

This massive concrete highway system destroyed the thousands of linked, self sufficient, full-service communities that made up the United States before 1950.  It wasn't long before families knew they needed more than one car.  Indeed, it wasn't long before they found that two cars weren't enough. After all, Father is working 50 miles away in an easterly direction. Mother is working twenty miles away in a northerly direction. Oldest son is working 35 miles away in a southerly direction. And all the stores have been moved out of town to a mall ten miles in a westerly direction.
Compounding the problem was the disappearance of a reliable extensive system of public transportation. Slowly but surely, railroad tracks disappeared, bus routes were curtailed, trolleys disappeared in nearly all cities that had them.
And thus did a freedom-loving America become dependent on the automobile.
But that isn't what we were told.  No, we were all having "a love affair with our car".  We were advised to "see the USA in our Chevrolet".  Americans, it was said,  looo-oved their car.
And today, my fellow Americans, when you are in one of those 14 lanes of backed-up traffic on the interstate at 6:00PM, moving at 15-20 mph,  looking out over what James Kunstler sharply calls "automobile slums",  praying there won't be a breakdown or accident, consider what we have done to ourselves.  Are you still in love with your car?  Are you seeing the USA?  Is she beautiful and exciting?  Not from where I'm sitting.


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