Back in the 1950s and 60s we were promised a highway utopia that never seemed to come about. There still aren’t flying cars
in every garage among other things. Today’s driving future seems to be
in the other direction as the nationalization or at the very least a
bailout (with strings) of the domestic auto manufacturers looms as a
Like all things that government touches the
roads are sub-optimal and political concerns trump those of making a
system function well. Nothing says this best than the way driver
training in the US is conducted. It’s emphasis on learning details of
the DUI laws and following the law over common sense show in no uncertain terms that politics is their most important priority. Instead of building solid long lasting roads we get roads that are in need of constant repair to make work for politically connected contractors. Instead of longer yellow signals for safety we get shorter ones with red light cameras that make money for government and its contractors at our expense.
Time and time again we get ‘solutions’ that are good for the government
and those connected to it but do little to improve the situation on the
The solutions being proposed today and may be favored by an Obama administration
fit the same mold. The congestion tax is the current hot new thing
since London put it in. Studies have shown that the congestion tax has
been a failure
with regards to the goal of reducing congestion but that hasn’t stopped
governments around the world from wanting to implement their own
version. What has this form of taxation done? It has allowed
governments to log where people drive.
It has allowed government to set up the mechanisms of granting people
permission to drive into a congestion-taxed area. The same mechanisms
by which one pays their congestion tax ahead of time would work well to
grant or deny permission. Most of all it has increased the amount of
money the government takes from the people. Last but not least of
course is the money to run the system that is paid to a contractor with
the usual connections.
In Illinois and other states the political class is also enamored with the idea of special lanes
that require a larger toll be paid or that one have government
permission to use them. In the name of reducing congestion government
will block off lanes from the common people and then only allow those
with special permits use them. These permits are issued when people fit
a criteria set by government. First and foremost the political class is
allowed to use the reserved lanes. It doesn’t matter what they drive,
just being a member of the political class is enough. In some
implementations all that is needed is to be wealthy enough to pay the
fees. But in this era of taxing by transponder those connected to the
government often use the privilege to get a free ride
with special transponders. The last group to be allowed in the special
lanes will be those who fit the correct political image. Those who
carpool and those who drive approved ‘green‘
vehicles. Sadly I doubt my 12 year old V8 pony car will qualify despite
the fact that keeping a car, any car a long time is far more green
(because of the resources required to build a car) than any electric or
hybrid. Instead those that want to tell us what to do would prefer to crush old cars.
Another new hotness is to tax by the mile.
This scheme usually requires some sort of transponder to keep track of
when and where people drive. Especially true when it is combined with a
congestion charge. Government cites the falling fuel tax revenues with
fuel-efficient cars and people driving less. The very things it was
trying to promote are now the reason they have to find a new intrusive
way of taxing us. They have not even considered ending their diversions of present road funds
to make up for the lower income. The federal government and others are
still able to squander significant amounts of money on police check
points, studies on how to monitor us more, forest preserve paths and
other non-road building activities.
One thing that did not go away was the idea of a computer controlled automated highway system.
The government and others are still very much interested in these
systems. However, I don’t think it will shape up to be the 100+mph
system envisioned decades ago. Rather I see it to be a system where we
will have to have permission to go from A to B and then be forced by
machine to do it as the government allows. Politically we will be stuck
going no faster than 55mph. Priority will be given to those who have
political favor. The ruling class will have all sorts of special
privileges as the technology makes it possible those in power will use
it to their benefit and to reward those who help them while the rest of
suffer in even greater congestion and have less freedom to travel.
nations sought to tax ordinary people into tiny dull vehicles by huge
fuel taxes. This taxation left people who could afford it or who would
drive less to still be free to buy whatever vehicles they liked. The US
government was not going to make that mistake. It instituted Corporate Average Fuel Economy
to try and force the auto manufacturers to simply not build the cars
the government thought we shouldn’t have. The CAFE requirements killed
off most performance cars for more than a decade. CAFE resulted in the
end of almost all the large passenger cars in the mid-1980s. Station
wagons and most big affordable sedans vanished as choices. All that
remained were a few luxury models and those models favored by
government as vehicles for its police forces. The market however isn’t
so easily beaten. People didn’t shift in their tastes, so they bought
the next best thing, the passenger truck. These passenger trucks were
made as far back as the late 1940s for a niche market. In the late 80s
they began to leave the niche. The automakers responded and the SUV
trend was born. Now instead of passenger cars that could get 20+mpg,
people were driving trucks that got 15mpg. Government intervention at
Not only did CAFE backfire on its goal, it created
market distortions that are now once again leaving the domestic
automakers in a very bad situation as their most profitable products
are no longer desired by the buying public the way they had been. While
many blame the decisions of executives for the mess they are in and it
is ultimately their fault, there are a variety of conditions they made
their decisions under. These conditions all go back to government
interference in the market, the products we can buy, the rate they had
pay to for labor, the situation with health care, and many other
The conditions of the three largest US automobile
manufacturers is so bad this time around that there is talk of bailouts
and nationalizing them. Once nationalized the government will be free
to tell us what to drive. All it would need to do is tax or ban imports
to prevent us from choosing something else. The protectionism is
nothing new for the political class to dream up. Even if imports try to
increase their manufacturing in the USA the government will likely act
to stop them or nationalize their facilities as well. These cars that
are approved for us by the political class will be as bad as anything
the Soviet Union, East Germany, or any government ever dreamed up. Meanwhile the political class will import their cars from some other nation.
The market reaction to government’s politically driven car design will be the growth of something that would resemble Cuba.
The rebuilding of existing cars will become very popular. The market
(if it is not totally killed by government force) will drive people to
find efficient and cost-effective ways to restore automobiles to
showroom condition or better. Salvage yards will become places where
every existing car that can be saved will be saved. All those that
can’t will be dismantled for valuable parts. Some companies will offer
enough new parts to practically build
an old car from a VIN number alone. The market will make it so that for
about the same price as a new government designed car, one could step
into a showroom new car from some past era.
The government in turn will try to create scrappage laws
and making used parts illegal. It will levy special taxes or outright
prohibit the manufacture of parts for older cars. It will try to force
people into new government cars all while saying it is for the
environment. Their attacks on the older cars will have nothing to do
with the environment. Saving the older cars is far greener than
building new ones as it takes much less material and energy.
Government’s actual goals will remain as they always have, simply to
run our lives.
Eventually only the approved government cars
will be allowed on the automated or number plate scanned roads. The
good roads will be empty of traffic. The only ones driving on them will
be the politically approved. It will be much like what has already been
achieved in communist nations past and present. The rest of us will be
driving on potholed local roads if we are driving at all.
officers or the government’s machines will ticket for everything and
anything. They will rig the system to create more tickets to steal from
motorists. Speed cameras, red light cameras, stop sign cameras, and even tire tread depth detectors
will continue to rake in the cash. The number plate cameras and
tracking devices will make sure tolls and taxes are paid. If any of
these machines have a problem, motorists will be stuck paying the fines and penalties anyway.
top of all of this, the government will take ideas from various lobbies
and do gooder groups that have their own agendas. For instance with the
influence of MADD we would be sure to see a breathalyzer interlock in every car. Technology will be used in every turn to serve those who wish to have power over society.
of the heated roads that would always make it a perfect day for driving
and low costs we will get a nightmare of controls on our daily travels.
High costs, endless congestion, poorer roads, fuel shortages, poorly
made vehicles, government monitoring, and much more that will make
today’s public transportation look good. By then mass transit will be
even worse than it is today. This is because the method of encouraging
transit usage has been to make driving worse and then cutting mass transit service while increasing the tax dollars going to it.
Some may find such a nightmare to be impossible, but from the Claybrookian
thought that has dominated Washington DC since the 1970s this is where
we would end up should the get the power and implement the technology.
Will it happen? I do not know. I know it could happen. All the pieces
are on the board right now. Until they are swept from the board as the
wrong-headed ideas they are the possibility of this nightmare or at the
very least significant parts of it will continue to exist.