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Fred Smith - Autonomy- 1990 Reason Magazine

Fred Smith - Autonomy- 1990 Reason Magazine

Ratings: (0)|Views: 70 |Likes:
American's love affair with the automobile has become a cliche, almost a snide one. But in the early days, there was real passion.
American's love affair with the automobile has become a cliche, almost a snide one. But in the early days, there was real passion.

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Published by: Competitive Enterprise Institute on Nov 17, 2011
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A
~[ERrCA'S10\'eaffairwiththeautomobilehasbe-comeacliche,often.asn~d:one.Butintheearlydays.
.there
wasreal
passion.
'lOU
know,Henry,yourcarliftedusoutofthemud:'afarmer'swifeJivingnearRome.Georgia,wrotetoHenryFordin1918."Itbroughtjoyintoourlives.Welovedeveryrattleinitsbones."EvenAmericanreformersandintellectualswerefavorablyinclined.Inhis1916book,
TireRomanceofthe..twoIndustry,
JamesRoodDoolittleexpressedthebeliefthatthecarwould"increasepersonalefficiency,...make
happierthe
Jotofpeoplewhohaveledisolatedlivesinthecountryandcongestedlivesinthecities;[and]...serveasanequalizer
and
abalance."Conservationistssawtheautomobileasagreatadvance-nolongerwould\,2.5tquantitiesof
fertile
farmlandbelostfeedinghorses.And,withmobility,rural
YOlHh
might
even
stay
onthef2.rTI1,ratherthanrushingawaytothebig
city.
Butthoseearlypositionshavelong
vanished,Today'sintel-
lectuals
andreformers
have
little
respectfortheautomobile-orforautomobileculture.
The
car'sveryconvenienceseemsanindulgence,awasteofresourcesand
money,
"The
Soviet
lievedpollutionandimprovedsafety.Andmanyoftheprob-
lernsassociated
withautomobilesaretheresultoftoomuchnot
100
link
politicalcontrol.'The
reformers.'
rejectionoftheautomobilereflects,inpart,theirdistasteforcapitalismanditsmainbeneficiaries.Intellec-tualshaveparticularcontemptfor[heself-expressivezaucherieof
American
C.1I
culture-taiifins,
hOI
rods,drag
racing,
and,worstofall,thePinkCadillac.Toalargedegree,theirhoslilityto
the
automobileissimplya
manifestation
oftheirlargerhostilitytowardunfetteredAmericanindividualism.Theautomobileoffersnotonlypersonalmobilitybutper-
sonal
space;ensconcedwithintheircars,
drivers
may
sing
alongwiththeradio,avoidpanhandlers,hangfuzzydice
0:1
their
rearvie
w
mirrors,puton
makeup,
and
otherwise
behaveasiftheywereintheirownhomes.EarlyCarproponentsnotedthatautomobiles,asopposedtopublic
transit,
preservedwomen'smodesty.protectingthem
from
pawingorunsa-vorygazesfromstrangers.
Of
THELIBERATINGBENEFITSOF
Union'sgreatestcontributionto
world
peacewasthefactthatitdidnotputacarineverySovietci:izen'sgarage,"saysRalph~ader.
Political
activistssuchas
Nader
havenomonopolyOnhostility
to
theautomobile.Amongthewell-educatedandwell-to-do,nostalgiafortraintravelandpaeanstosubways
are
ascommonascomplaintsabouttrafficcongestion.ButthosewhoprescribesubwaysforAmerica'scitiesrarelyholdthejam-packedtrainsofTokyoupasa
paragon;
theWashingtonMetro,whosemoderncarsoftentravelallbutempty,isamoreappealingmodel.Andthosewhosingthepraisesofmasstransitarethefirsttocomplainaboutcrowdedairplanes.Onebeginstosuspectthattheproblem
with
automobilesisthatthey'retoodemocratic:Theylettoomanypeopleontheroad.Thespecificchargesleviedagainsttheonlytrulydemocraticformoftransportationare
many;
thedestructionoftraditionalurbanAmerica,condemningAmericanstothesteril-
iry
ofsuburbia:theslaughterofover
40,000
peopleannually;theconsumptionofvastquantiriesof"nonrenewablere-sources';thefoulingofourairandourclimate:congestionthathasmadeamockeryofthecar'spromisedmobility.CriticsassertthatAmericansmustrenouncethisfaithlessmachineandacceptthevirtuesofcollectivist
transportation.
Schemesrang-
Log
fromdoublingthegasolinetax
to
odd/evenrationingplans
10
outrightbansofautomobileownershipareeagerlyproposed.Butthechargeslodgedagainsttheautomobilearelargelyincorrect.
and
Lieaccompanyingprescriptionsareflawed.Thecorningoftheautomobilenotonlybroughtmobilitybutre-course,automobilesfromthebeginningalsoprovidedcon-v~
nient
sitesfor
lovemaking.
By
givi:1g
individuals
CO;1-troloverwhenandwheretheygo,automobiles
renderim-
possibletheplannedworldsodesiredbythe
coercive
utopi-ans-thosewel1-meanig
BYFRED
1.
SMITH
despots
whose
ektostiflehumannatureandtherebysa\'ehumanity,AsBrockYates,formerauthorof"TheDreamMachine"columninthe
Washil;giollPOSI,
hasnoted:"Theownership(ofcars]isdiscouragedintotalitariansocieties.Amobilepopulationisapopulationessentiallyoutofcontrolofcenrralizedgovernmeru.'When
TheGropesojWrcrh,
L1epowerfulfilmdepicting[heplightofLieDepression-eraruralpoor,wasshownintheSovietUnion,audiencesweremucklessbythepitiableconditionofthe
Joad
familythanbytheirmobility,"IwillneverforgettheAmericanfilmmadefromSteinbeck's
Grapeso/V':rath,"
wroteLevNavrozovinhis
1975
book,
The
Education
of
LeI"
/"I'a1"l"0-
:01'.
"Theauthorand
the
film-makerswantedtoshowthe
We
ojthepoor
inthe
thirt
ies.Thepoorrodeaboutintrucks.
Tn
eRussianaudiencestared.EYe:1asmalldingycar
thirty
yeasoldisastatussymbolhereperhaps2.ShighasayachtintheUnitedStales.Butl1eownershipofatruckissomethingaswould,inL1eUnitedStates,beth~ownershipof,say,afleetof
ASAFER,CLEANER,ANDMOREMOBILESOCIETY
 
dirigibles.TheaudienceperceivedSteinbeck'swrathfulmes-sageof
poverty
asafuturisticfantasyaboutextraterrestrialsridingaboutintheirfleetsofdirigibles."
A
LTHOUGHtheautomobilewasnotinventedin
Arner-
ica,
itwasherethatmobil
ity
wasfirstdemocratized.Inthelate19thcentury,carswere
the
toysoftherich-beautifulhandcrafteditemsrequiring
vast
effort
10
build
and
maintain,
Theautomobile,WoodrowWilsonfeared,wouldstimulate.socialismby"inci
ri
ngthepoortoenvythepossessionsoftherich."AndinEurope,carsdid
remainunavailable
toallbutthewealthiestuntilafterWorldWar
II.
ButinAmerica,Henry
Ford's
populistvisionand
capitalist
geniusputtheworldonwheels,Hispioneeringassembly-lineproductionmethodscouldproduceacarin70man-days;inEurope.wherecarriage-tradepracticesstillheldsway,3,000man-dayswererequired.Whenthe
Model
Twasdiscontinued.
in
1927,over
IS
millionhadbeensold.Europeangovernmentssawcarsasluxuryitemsaridadoptedpoliciesearlyonthatkepttheminthatclass
until
afterWorldWar
II.
From
thebegin-
--=-_111
ning,veryhighhorsepowerandfueltaxespricedautomobilesoutoftherangeof
moderate-incomeEuropeans.
(Inthe
British
Parliament,HerbertAsquitharguedin1907thatataxoncarswas"almostanidealtax
because
itis
a
luxury
whichisapttodegenerateintoa
nuisance.")
1...
0
suchrestrictionshamperedArne
rican
industry,whichrespondedby
producinginexpensive
autosthatquicklyincreasedinqualityandperformance.Americanmanufacturersalsohadthebenefitofamorepromisingcustomerbase
than
Europeans.TheflatterrainoftheMidwestwasmoresuitableforearly,poorlypoweredautomo-biles
than
mountainousEurope,andthelargeandrelativelyprosperousruralpopul
arion
wasalreadyfamiliarwith
steam-
andgasoline-poweredfarmmachinery.In1908,whenFordintroducedtheModelT,halftheU.S.populationlivedonfarmsorintownsofless
than
2,500.
Farmers
eagerly
adoptedtheautomobile,andit
drarnatically
changedrurallife.In
1909,
C
o!!ier'sreponedthatinIowa
1
01.1
t
ofevery34farmersownedanautomobile,versus1familyoutof190inNewYorkCity,Entrepreneursreinforced
thi
sdemandbypioneeringrationalconsumerfinancing
arrangements.
General
Motors
Accepts..neeCorporationwaslaunchedin1919.
\\'i
thint\\"oyearsthereweremorethan100car-financingcompaniesintheUnitedStates.Buyingontimemadeitpossible:formostern-ployedAmericanstogainautornobility.Consequently.thegrowthincarownershipinAmericawasexplosive.In1910,therewas
I
arforevery44households;by1930,itwas1forevery
1.3
households.Englanddidn'treachthatleveluntil1966.In1929.theU.S.companiesmanufac-tured5.3
million
motorcars-IOtimesthetotalofthecombinedoutputofalltherestofthenationsoftheworld.EightthousandvehicleswereregisteredinAmericaby1900;by19~0,thenumberhadreached32million.
B
EFOREthecomingofthecar,
many
Ar.:ericansr.eliedonthesonoffixed-schedulemass
transitprescribed
by
roday'sauto
critics-trains.subways,andtrolleys.Trains.inparticu'ar,werevitaltorurallife.Butdependingonacornbi-
nation
ofhorsesandfixedtransportationrenderedtherural
population
essentiallyimmobile.
The
speedofthehorsewasonlyabout
6
mphto
8
mph,andahorsecouldonlygoabout
25
mileswithoutextensiverest.Totravel!.~e25milesfromOregon,Illinois,totheneighboringto
w
nofRockford,forexample,lookaboutfourhoursbyhorse.!"-fo.;tpeople,however.took
the
train,confrontingafixedschedule
that
made
one-day
roundtrips
nearly
impossible.(NormanT.Moline'sstudyofOregon,
Mobiliry
andtheSmallTown:1900·1930,
providesadetailed
look
attheauto-mobile'seffectonlifeinruralcom-munities.)Beforetheautomobile,Oregonresidentsmadeunderstandablyfewtrips
to
Rockford.
trains
Hd
her
se-
A
diarykeptbyOregonresidentHughRay
Ilr3\'In
"Hf
12;er
recordsthreetripstoRockfordfrom190
I
o
10
r
th~"
ee
~ler
1903;
10
yearslater,theRay
family
couldtravelwith
auto-owning
friendsandmadeeighttripsfrom1911
to
1913.AftertheRaysboughttheirowncarin1916,theybegantovisitRockfordeye
i").
t-,
ree
0
rfou
r
weeks.Theautomobile,whichtraveledmoreslowlythanatrainbutadheredtoitsownerspersonalschedule,knitOregon,Rock-ford.a~.d
surrounding
communitiestogether.Althoughweas-sociaiethecarwithurbansprawl--citi~sspreadingoutfromtheircentersintothesuburbs-italsocreatednewmetropolitanareas
by
bringingtogethersmalltowns.Forcitydwellers,mobilitybegantoimprovepriortothe
~t':c;T;r:bile:
Bo,11thebicycleand
srre
et
railroads
created
$\Vi;1!;
meansoftravelabouturbanareas.The"safetybicycle"wasfirstpopularizedin1885andlaidthebasisforthe
industrial
st:-~cr~~etr..:.twouldsoonbeconverted
to
automobiles.
By
1900,thereweresome850electrictrolleysystems
C
octorswere
the
!Irs'!toEhndon
!
temobile.
re,.~on
23
 
son:"Jitneysmeanconvenienceintransportafontothepublicneverdreamedofbeforebythosewhohaveriddenonbadlyhearedandbadlylightedstreetcarswhichhavedumpedthemoff
at
streetcomers,inthemiddleofthe:street,probably
in
amudpuddle.No:sowiththe'jitney.'TheIadies
wil]
nothavetogeltheirfeetsoakedwith.rainandmud.The'jitney'willdriveyou
to
thecurbstoneinfrontofyourresidence:'Xa~'J-rally,suchserviceposedagravethreattothefinanciallytrocbledstreetcarmonopolies,andcitiesfromLosAnselesto
Atlanta
quickly
moved
tooutlaworseverely
restrict
jitneyservice-s-deprivingurbandwellersofaninexpensiveformof"public"
rransportation
thatofferedmuchofthe
automobile's
comfortandflexibility._.;.Politicsalsointervenedin
Trolleysprol'lded
~-=---;:l
roadbuilding.Ascar
owner-ch
e
a
p
trans
p
Or
ta-
thiscommunity
who
areforcedtopayhighfares-tobe
\::f\~.....
'~
shipincreased,peoplehandfedlikecattle?"
~""g-....;.\~
began
10
demandbetter
freeways,
Angelenoswereesc.:!?ing::;;::_.roads.ThefirstAmericanpublictransitandbuy-limited-accesshighway
ing
privateautomobilesexclusivelyfor
autornc-
f
h.
~IEabled
vehicle.
ataargreaterrate
t.
an._,~~bileswasa
45-mik
pri-
~m~~is2;)2'
~'~:{0:~
T·:::~.:.:ii~~~~%~~*~$~&:.~.~.
An
s's
liedCars'
ar'~'rem~m~ered
10".
.e~tfia~~;~~~;~QJ~}~~&\5:"'.'.;""":..:;.:~~;-.
5'111~~~~!
.-~;·;r,~'·_:~·~\~:£:.~~;_:;ti0J2-{;~~·
operatingover10,000milesoftrack.Today,
aruicar
inrellectu-aJslookbackonthetrolleysasEdeniccarriagesoverthrownby.theautomobile
serpent.Trolleys
did
provide
clean,
reasonably
pricedservice,buttheywereinflexibleandtherewasnoeasywaytobypass
a
disabledvehicle.Thecostsofbuildingandmaintainingtherail
infrastructure
werevel)'
high.
Norweretrolleysimmunetopubliccriticism.By1918,theLosAngelesstreetearsystem'sfive-centfarecouldnolongercoveritscom.butpublicresentmentmadeincreasespoliticallyimpossible.Riderscomplainedbiuerlyaboutbeingforcedtostandincrowdedcars.
"15
itnotabouttimeyoutookstepstoascertainjustwhythe
Pacific
Electric[thefamous
Red
Cars]getsbywiththeputridbrandoftransportationtheyaredishing
out?"
aVenicecitizencomplained
to
thelocal
board
of
trustees
in
1920.
"IstherenoredressforthehundredsofcitizensinLongbeforetheotherAmericans;in
1915,
LosAngeleshad1carforevery8residents,compared
to
anational
2.
verageofacarforevery-Dpeople.Thesecarscauseddowntowntraf-fiejams=-Iesswhentheyweremoving
lown
sandruraIare
u,
thanwhentheywereparked.Then,asnow,manydriversexpectedtoparkatthecurbforfree,as
they
hadinthedaysofhorses.Thecitybrieflytriedtobancurbsideparkingfromacongestedareaofdowntown,onlytofaceapoliticalrebellion.Eventually,thecitybackeddown,thestreetsremainedcrowded,andpaidparkinglotsbegan
to
appear.Moreirnportaruly,storesmovedoutofdowntowntolesscrowdedareaswheretheycouldprovideprivateparkinglotsfortheircustomers.Contrary'totheclaimsofautomobilecritics,such
"Itee"
parkingdoesnotconstituteasubsidy,since-
i!
isincludedinthestore'scostofdoingbusinessandpassedalongtocustomersinthepricestheypay.Thesamecannotbesaid,however,forfreecurbsideparking.LosAngelesalsopioneeredacommonProgressive-erapolicy:squelchingtheprivatejitneyservicesthatspranguptooffercommutersgrouptransportationviaautomobile.Somejitneyswerefull-blownbusinesses,runningregularroutesorofferingdoor-to-doorservice.Inothercases,commuterssimplystucksignsintheircarwindowsannouncingtheirdestinationsandchargedanickel
to
anypassengergoingtheir
...·2)'.
Thejitneys
COSI
thesameasstreetcars
but
carriedpas-sengersatspeeds
150
percentto200percentfaster.SaidAtlancajitneyp~oponentandautodealerGeorgeHan-
!nd
routel
01
trains,
bringingnewmotlility
to
p~ople
In
small
lionbut
were
no-
I
Q
rl
0
usl
y
!n!1exl~le.
Therewunoeasy
wayto
bHilSS
a
vatelybuilttollroadIi
nk-
ing
GreatNeck,:'\ew
York,
to
Lake
Renken-
koma-e-the
LonglsiandMotorParkway.begunin
1908.
How-ever,tol!roadswereopposedbythehighwayestablishment,andpoliticiansrushedtopreemptprivatesolutions.Onespokesmannotedthatatollroadwouldgenerareonly30percentnewtraffic,whilea"free"roadmightgeneratetwicethatamount.Theconceptthattrafficvolume,ratherthanwillingnesstopJ.Y,wastheappropriatemeasure1o,deterrnin-i;:g_{-,ighwaydecisionsintroducedamajorbiasintohighwayinvestmentandoperatingdecisions,Roadswerejustifiedont::;ebasisofproposedusagelevels,noton
(he
basisofthevalueofthatusage.(Thevalueofroadsne-ednotonlyhavebeenmeasuredbylolls;
traditionally,
manyroadshadbeenpaidforandmaintainedbytheadjacentpropertyowners.whowantedaccesstotheirhomes,farms,orbusinesses.)Tofinanceroadconstruction,stategovernrnentselecredtofocusonmore-diffuse
lax
approachesratherthantolls.Thee
arly
preferencewasforthegasolinetax.Oregon.;-:e\,.Mex-ico.andColoradowerethefirststatestoimposethis"userfee,"t>:ginningin
J
919.
By
1929,everystaleandtheDistrictofColumbiahadimposedsuchtaxes.generallyataboutthree
C:=:i'HS
a
gallon,
UnlikeEuropeans.Americanshavetended
10
restrictgaso-
[:"Ie
taxestoroad-relatedprojects.Butthatprinciplehas
f;3C'J-
allyeroded,as
otherpolitical
constiruencies=-inchxiinga;-:cicarp~s-havegained
po...
er,In1982.forthefirsttime.Conp-ess

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