Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Three

I learned to drive when I was about 20, because Ruth Berman's father decided I needed to. Having learned, I never got a license and never drove. Mostly this was due to a personal quirk. However, in addition to my quirk, I have a strong belief that cars have been terrible for the US. Malls and strip malls and suburbs have eaten up good farm land and wood lots, marshes, the slopes of mountains, desert. Good productive soil and lovely wilderness has been buried under asphalt.

Cars have created modern American cities, decaying at the center, while the ring of suburbs grows and grows.

Cars have also contributed to the death of small towns. Used to be, goods came in on the train and were sold in shops along Main Street. People might travel to a nearby city by train once in a while, but mostly they bought from the local merchants. Once you have cars, it becomes possible to drive fifty or a hundred miles to a Wal-mart and come back the same day with a trunk full of cheap crap from China. The local merchants go under. Main Street is boarded up. When the kids grow up, they leave, and you have a state like South Dakota with one shopping center on the Minnesota border and one in the Black Hills and not much in between.

To be fair, there is more going on in the Dakotas. But cars have not been good for small towns.

Anyway, I am not a fan of the automobile, and I really dislike SUVs. Having said that, I am horrified at the idea of the big American auto companies going bankrupt. We are talking about a good chunk of the country's productive capability; millions of jobs, many of them good union jobs; and the economies of at least three states.

I certainly believe that we need more mass transit. I have used mass transit my entire adult life. It's cheap compared to car ownership, it gives me extra time to read, and I don't have to worry about the weather. If the buses aren't moving, then the metro area is shut down.

If the guys at the Oil Drum website are right, the age of cheap oil is ending; and we are going to have to redesign our culture to deal with this. Cities need to be more compact, made for pedestrians and bicyclists. Towns need to be along rail lines or navigable rivers. Freight and people should be moved by train, boat and barge whenever possible.

Still and all, we are likely to need cars as well; and for a long time, until the suburbs are torn down and rail lines rebuilt, we are likely to need quite a few cars. We ought to keep the ability to make them.

Look at Europe, For the most part, the countries that do well have industry and make stuff for export. It's not a good idea to make nothing solid.

It is not a good thing to destroy a major industry as the country goes into a depression.


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