Start Your Engines
The feature articles related to automobiles, mobility, and their regulation ("Autonomy," "Trapped Inside the Safety Belt," and "Going Mobile," Aug./Sept.) carry consistent and important messages:
• Personal mobility and the vehicles that make it possible are viewed as negatives by those elements in society that covet central authority and the ability to control other people's lives.
• Regulatory and enforcement agencies are motivated more by perpetuating the "need" for their existence than they are by problem prevention and resolution.
• Agencies, organizations, and industries that cloak their activities in the banner of safety or environmental sanctity often do so to further agendas designed to enhance their own economic status or power base, at everyone else's expense.
As stated in "Trapped Inside the Safety Belt," the National Motorists Association is indeed a small organization, but we are not always "outgunned" by the regulatory/insurance/Naderite coalition. It was through our efforts that the first serious dent was put in the 55-mph national maximum speed limit. We will have more victories when citizens realize that the freedom to travel where they want to, when they want to, and the way they want to is in jeopardy of being lost in their lifetime.
James J. Baxter
National Motorists Association
I performed some mathematics on statistics given in "Autonomy," by doing a least-squares fit of an exponentially decaying curve to the data of fatalities per 100 million miles of travel for the years 1921, 1941, 1947, and 1966. All of these statistics predate the founding of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed. Using this statistical analysis method, I arrived at an estimate of 2.26 deaths per 100 million miles for the year 1988. The actual number, as reported in the articles, was 2.2. This gives further support to Mr. Smith's contention that we do not have the NHTSA to thank for fewer highway fatalities.
Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
Common sense should prevail in any analysis of the horse vs. the automobile for the transportation of people. Superiority of the automobile was established long, long ago. Comparison of early century transportation alternatives is a needless exercise and is irrelevant to the solution of our current transportation problems. However valuable the automobile may be as a transportation machine, urban areas across the nation are experiencing a deteriorating level of mobility from traffic congestion caused by an overabundance of automobiles. We have learned that the automobile does not lend itself to the transport of large numbers of people, simultaneously, in a given amount of operating space without inducing travel delays.
Pricing peak-hour travel, electronic navigation systems, and carpool lanes may help to alleviate peak-hour traffic congestion on heavily traveled routes, but these measures do not address the basic problem of excessive automobile travel demand. In heavily populated areas, alternative modes of transportation are the most effective means of reducing that demand.
Enamored by the automobile's convenience and flexibility, and the insistence of economic theorists that the "pay as you go" system is best, America has concentrated nearly 100 percent of its surface travel demand onto the highway system. Developments in other modes of transportation have been ignored. Glorification of the automobile continues in spite of the appalling loss of life, congestion-related travel delays, environmental degradation, and dependence on foreign oil resulting from the enormous amount of daily vehicle-miles of travel generated on the nation's street and highway system.
We have lost the concept of transporting people with efficiency, reliability, comfort, and speed with safety. Perhaps it is time for more of us to become "anticar intellectuals."
Yuba City, CA
Fred Smith makes some excellent points about the ascendance of cars. I particularly enjoyed his insights on the privacy afforded by the auto. However, it is not realistic to use the horse as the standard against which the automobile's pollution, energy consumption, and safety records are judged. Rather, the scale should be the alternatives available today.
One form of transportation that went virtually unmentioned in Mr. Smith's article is the bicycle. It is cheaper (therefore more democratic) than the car, does not pollute, consumes only the energy of the user (in a healthful way), and is potentially much safer than the car.
The problems confronting people in today's world who choose to use the bicycle (safety, large distances of travel) are largely the result of city planning that is focused on the auto as the primary mode of transportation. This undemocratic structuring has limited the ability of those who choose to ride bikes to do so in a safe, efficient manner. We need to rethink our zoning and street system to make our cities more accessible to those who prefer bikes. Hong Kong is an example of an overcrowded city that has made the bicycle a cheap and practical alternative to the auto. Developing nations in particular should give careful consideration to the bicycle when designing their cities, since the majority of the people there cannot afford cars.
Certainly, the bicycle is not for everyone or every environment. In this age of overcrowded and smog-choked streets, though, it is an option whose use should be encouraged. Those who choose to ride bikes should be accommodated as much as possible; true autonomy lies not with the auto, but in our ability to choose the mode of transportation that best suits our personal and economic needs.
Never mind Gorbachev's dilemma. Never mind Yeltsin and the Shalatin Plan. We have our very own market failure.
The United States has become a welfare state for the benefit of motorists, truckers, auto manufacturers (including Japanese and German), and the oil industry (including the OPEC nations). Saddam Hussein himself was created by the imbecility of subsidizing the use of American vehicles.
We subsidize parking, government services, the use of our highway system; we have ruined our public transportation systems. We have become utterly dependent on our automobiles. Our poor are burdened with costly gas guzzlers, or they are restricted to their ghettos and to a life of crime and poverty.
American automobiles and trucks—36 percent of the world's automotive population—consume 4 billion barrels of oil annually, almost 20 percent of the world's total oil production, 50 percent of the motor fuel. They produce 1 billion tons of CO2 annually, plus vast amounts of nitrous oxides, CFCs, and other greenhouse gases. They kill 50,000 Americans each year and produce 500,000 serious injuries. And they drain away, egregiously, 25 percent of the American GNP.
The foundation of the world oil market is derived from these same American nonpolicies. How long before this American absurdity becomes the political target of leaders in Europe and Japan? How long can we continue to count on the tolerance of humanity?
An increase of 50 cents per gallon in the gas tax and subsequent 25-cent increases yearly until the aggregate tax level balances the subsidies (probably $3.50 to $4.00) would free us from our utter automobile dependence. The yield, of course, should be returned in the form of reduced sales and property taxes. Fuel consumption would be reduced 6 percent immediately. Long-term, the potential for reduction is probably 75 percent (based on European experience).
Such policy would be the most devastating blow we could deliver to Saddam and to his OPEC clones.
Chairman of Transportation
The Sierra Club
Mr. Smith replies: W.E. Wells, already well on the way to becoming an "anticar intellectual," suggests that automobiles have outlived their usefulness. He dismisses tactical pricing techniques—peak-hour pricing, electronic navigation systems—as useful but unable to address the basic problem of urban congestion. In part I agree. Urban congestion is a critical problem, and that problem is unlikely to be resolved by any government pricing experiment. However, the problem is not the private automobile but the public highway. Indeed, the very concept of a private congestion "problem" is silly. Can one imagine a private entrepreneur complaining that too many people want to use his roadways at the current price? Anticar intellectuals should direct their irritation at the cause of congestion. Were they to do so, they might reclassify themselves (along with us classical liberals) as anti–political-highway intellectuals!
Eric Gottlieb champions the bicycle over the automobile but concedes that it is not for everyone or for every purpose. I agree. Bicycles are fine for the physically fit, brave individuals who travel alone, who shop and work near home, and who are insensitive to weather. But for the other 99-plus percent of all Americans, something else is needed, and that's the private passenger vehicle. To paraphrase W.C. Fields: For normal travel, bicycles aren't worth a damn!
Though Stanley Hart and I start from similar data, we are in major disagreement. He focuses on the fact that many highway users fail to pay their way. I agree. But he sees the problem as a market failure—as a subsidy to automobile driving. I disagree. Most subsidies and inefficiencies in the highway system take the form of either internal cross-subsidies—one group of users or one region subsidizes another—or of direct pork-barrel grants to road builders and developers. There is indeed failure in the transportation sector, but that failure is found in the political, not market, component of the system.
The obvious solution to government failure is privatization. Market prices are fairer and more rational than their political analogues. Pork-barrel politics isn't a private problem; firms make mistakes, but they rarely build—and never deliberately build—roads or bridges that lack economic justification. Public-works agencies, in contrast, do so repetitively.
Hart actually seems more concerned about American energy consumption than the car per se. He should therefore be elated by the Bush-whacking of the American public in the recent budget compromise. The Bush proposals would raise consumer gasoline taxes by 25 cents per gallon to fund military and welfare programs—not quite the $3.00 to $4.00 per-gallon tax rate sought by Hart but a step in that direction. But gas taxes are lousy pricing mechanisms. They force drivers to pay more regardless of the costs they impose on others. Gasoline taxes treat everyone as equally responsible for pollution, congestion, and road damage, and thus move us further from the principle that the polluter should pay.
The real tragedy of America's transportation policy is a failure to allow markets to operate. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: America's transportation system cannot forever remain half slave and half free. It will eventually become all the one or all the other. Environmentalists and free marketeers alike should come down clearly on the side of freedom and responsibility.
Hooked on Addiction
Bruce Alexander's review of Stanton Peele's Diseasing of America ("Beware the Cure," Aug./Sept.) continues your welcome recent focus on the issue of whether addiction or excessive behavior is sick, bad, crazy, or whatever. In examining Mr. Peele's candidates for the cause of such widespread behavior, however, he overlooks a couple of vital points.
Alexander correctly observes that the ideas that addiction is a disease (which Peele rejects) and that addiction is a failure of will (which Peele entertains) are both "dangerous." However, this danger is not based on the incorrectness of either idea—indeed, I see each of them as expressing an aspect of the full picture—but on the likelihood that powers-that-be (or would-like-to-be) will try to use them to rationalize their desires to intervene in other people's lives with coercive treatment methods and programs.
To his credit, Alexander allows that the seemingly more humane solutions he favors "may be out of reach without some further analysis of the forces that made American society so harsh in the first place." As I see it, those forces stem from bad ideas.
Wars on drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoking, overeating, oversexing, overworking, etc.; coercive treatment programs; domestic welfare spending—none of these will work. A battle of ideas can, if enough of us are willing to arm ourselves properly and fight it. The continuing spread of various Twelve-Step recovery programs is one very encouraging sign that the tide of battle may actually be turning.
Hungary for Freedom
I read Thomas Hazlett's column ("Expensive Accommodations," Oct.) with interest. While the facts he cites regarding events after World War II are essentially correct, the facts he omits could lead to a conclusion quite different than the one he draws.
He concludes that Hungary's prosperity, relative to other satellite nations like Czechoslovakia, is due to Kádár's accommodations to the Soviets. Let me submit that Soviet hesitance to interfere in Hungarian affairs after 1956 was due more to the Molotov cocktails thrown at Russian tanks by Hungarian freedom fighters than to Soviet consideration for their man Kádár.
Imré Nágy, who led the 1956 revolution and was recently rehabilitated and properly buried, did not have the option of driving a bus for 20 years as Czechoslovakia's Dubcek did. The Czech people in 1968 were less willing to spill their blood in the hopeless cause of militarily defeating Russia than were the Hungarians, who in 1956 drove the Soviet army from their country, opened free borders, and for a brief time were a neutral, independent nation.
It seems that Russia subsequently gave Hungary the latitude that it did because it was not willing to pay the price involved in crushing another revolt of the people; Russia moved into Czechoslovakia because it was quite prepared to correct a satellite's leadership that was not following Moscow's policy.
The Hungarian revolt came about because of the average person's unwillingness to continue to live under Communist rule, the Czech rebellion because of their leader's desire to liberalize socialism.
The fact that Hungarian troops were involved in quelling the Czech protest is better explained by the traditional enmity between the nations than by some Kádár plot to economically exploit the lack of Czech freedom. You didn't see Polish troops in Hungary or vice versa because the Russians knew they would rather fire upon them than upon their traditional friends, but Czech soldiers welcomed the chance to occupy Hungary and vice versa.
Kádár's fate with Saint Peter is indeed akin to the murderer of the parents who then raises the orphan. The Hungarian people, however, face no such dilemma, as they have proven their belief in freedom by shedding their blood.
As communism crumbles in the East Bloc nations, the question will be not who says they want freedom but who will renounce their jealousy of those who prosper as government gets off their backs. Will they accept competition in a free marketplace or cry for government intervention to guarantee equal results? Which will America choose?
Victor Hazy, Jr.
Check Your Sources
Steven Hayward's review of Harvey Mansfield's Taming the Prince ("Grab a Whip and a Chair," Aug./Sept.) claims that the book offers a challenge to libertarian political theory vis-à-vis the issue of presidential prerogative or executive power vs. the rule of law. Yet the only libertarians Hayward seems to know of are Hayek and Nozick. This is made evident by his remark that "libertarian political theory is rather more Aristotelian than anyone has explicitly noticed."
First, REASON magazine itself was founded on the belief that an Aristotelian approach to politics and such a basis for libertarian political theory are needed—hence the name Reason for the publication (inspired by the explicitly Aristotelian thought of Ayn Rand).
Second, several of REASON's early supporters as well as I—one of its founders—have written extensively in the Aristotelian political and philosophical tradition in support of libertarian political theory—see, for example, my books Human Rights and Human Liberties and Individuals and Their Rights. Libertarian theorists such as Eric Mack, Fred Miller, Douglas Den Uyl, and Douglas Rasmussen—to name only the most prolific of them—have placed a good deal of scholarly work on record within this tradition.
Third, Hayward's claim that the power of executive prerogative is "arbitrary" in John Locke's view is just wrong: Locke believed that the exercise of such power must be justified post facto—a point I discuss in detail in Human Rights and Human Liberties.
It is too bad that Hayward's review exhibits much more stargazing than familiarity with the relevant scholarly literature, not to mention recent intellectual history.
Tibor R. Machan
Mr. Hayward replies: I am surprised that only Tibor Machan picked up the gauntlet I so pugnaciously threw down. My intention in writing the review as pointedly as I did was to provoke libertarians to reclaim and champion the Aristotelian basis of libertarian theory. In this regard, I think I can characterize my reaction to this exchange by adapting a quip once made about a teacher of mine: If you think Machan is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him—it's nearly impossible.
I plead guilty to being unfamiliar with the work of the scholars Machan mentions (I suppose I read the wrong journals), though I am an admirer of Machan's work, especially on natural rights. But I do have far too many conversations with libertarians who are even less well acquainted than I with the classic teachings, and who express a theoretical antipathy toward executive power.
In the main this seems to stem from a neglect of the Aristotelian intellectual patrimony Machan champions. One can be, as I am, temperamentally and practically suspicious of executives, but it will not do to suppose that we can devise a system without political executives or one that unrealistically minimalizes the executive. That is why I thought Mansfield—not especially a friend (or foe) of libertarianism—was helpful in focusing attention on the issue.
As to the issue of the arbitrariness of executive prerogative in Locke, I remain in disagreement with Machan.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".