Self-driving vehicles

Driverless Cars and the Revenge of the Moral Equivalent of Hostlers and Horse-Drawn Carriage Makers

A perplexingly stupid op-ed against self-driving cars in The New York Times



Over at The New York Times, the op-ed page is featuring an article that asks, "Google Wants Driverless Cars, but Do We?" Who is the "We" of which author Jamie Lincoln Kitman speaks? Kitman worries about the "millions of truck and taxi drivers will be out of work, and owing to the rise of car-sharing and app-based car services, people may buy fewer vehicles, meaning automakers and their suppliers could be forced to shed jobs."

This is akin to asking "Ford Motors wants horseless carriages, but do we?" The nascent automobile industry did not ask permission from the hostlers, hansom cab drivers, horsebreeders, passenger rail companies, and prominent carriage manufacturers like Brewster and Kimball to flood the roads with cheaper, faster, and more convenient transportation. In 1914 there were 4,600 carriage companies operating; by 1929 there were fewer than 90.

Kitman also worries that the advent of driverless cars will force governments (which have not been asked) to spend more on building and maintaining better roadway infrastructure, e.g., fewer potholes and better road marking. Yet, somehow the much bigger infrastructure challenges of the switch from horse-drawn to horseless carriages were met. In 1904, there were about two million miles of public highway, of which 100,000 miles were covered with gravel. There were only 40,000 miles covered with Macadam, a mixture of crushed rock and tar. All the rest were still dirt.

Even more perplexingly, Kitman worries about what will happen to mass transit when people can summon driverless car rides with a tap on their mobile phones. As I explain in my my article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?," switching to fleets of ride-shared driverless vehicles will dramatically reduce congestion, free up massive amounts of urban land now devoted to servicing and storing automobiles, and reduce the amount of roadway infrastructure needed to supply transportation needs. Also, municipalities will soon recognize that this impending consumer switch will make their inflexible and costly public transit systems obsolete.

Kitman ends with this incredibly old-fashioned and obtuse suggestion:

When it comes to the practical direction of technology, the government too often defers to industry. Shouldn't society have a say in what amounts to a public works project larger than the Interstate System of highways — run by and for private industry, but underwritten by taxpayers? Congress needs to articulate their goals and answer this burning question: Are driverless cars really what we need?

I have got a better idea: Why don't we let Americans choose for themselves in the marketplace without having to ask permission from politicians, bureaucrats and other would-be central planners?

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  1. “Also, municipalities will soon recognize that this impending consumer switch will make their inflexible and costly public transit systems obsolete.”

    Haha, Mr. Bailey is funny man.

    1. The notion that NYC can throw the 6 million daily subway riders onto automobiles is ludicrous. Maybe it can work in much of the rest of America which has either already been totally retrofitted for cars or never needed it in the first place. But it won’t work everywhere.

      1. It would be nice if it were true that mass transit would become obsolete– in cities where they’ve built trains and subways and no one’s showing up to ride them. But even in those cities, transit is seen as something that simply must exist, no matter the ridership– or lack thereof.

  2. I have got a better idea: Why don’t we let Americans choose for themselves in the marketplace without having to ask permission from politicians, bureaucrats and other would-be central planners?

    What if people choose against driverless?

    1. I think some people will. Unfortunately I believe ultimately government will turn against them once it realizes that eliminating private control of vehicles puts more of a person’s life under its dominance, provided it seizes the power to “regulate” the system that controls the cars. Can’t you see your local politician grandstanding against those that want to keep killing babies on the highways?

      1. This will be exactly what happens. Those making the driverless cars will spend the next generation fighting regulators and politicians tooth and nail to make progress until a critical shift occurs and poll numbers or data reflects that people want driverless vehicles. The politicians and bureaucrats will promptly shift the force of government away from the producers of automated vehicles onto their opponents and competitors. It’s the natural order of things.

        Government will then take credit for enabling the growth of the industry and human progress. It’s the natural order of things.

      2. The argument Ron usually brings up is that driverless cars only have problems when they have to interact with human-driven cars. The end point of that argument is that for driverless cars to maximally efficient, human-driven cars need to be eliminated.

        1. The government is doing to do it at some point. We all know this. What’s really going to suck, though, is that I *still* won’t be able to operate my driverless car drunk…at least legally.

      3. And this is the main reason I’m not hugely excited or optimistic about driverless cars. It is almost certain to lead to cars being even more over-regulated than they already are.

    2. What if people choose against driverless?

      I very much got this impression.

      The writer Bailey’s railing against is deriding the crumbling condition of the Interstate Highway System. Which isn’t, exactly, crumbling because people don’t know how to driver or that those who know how aren’t demanding it be repaired. It’s crumbling because urbanization, logistics, and telecommunications technology means we don’t need it.

      Bailey saying “Let’s let the market decide!” is a bit like the older sibling saying, “Let’s let Mom tell us which child is the favorite!”

      1. It’s crumbling because urbanization, logistics, and telecommunications technology means we don’t need it.

        Not to mention the grandiose intentions of TOP MEN to accommodate our wishes, now and forever, at any price.

        1. It’s crumbling because urbanization, logistics, and telecommunications technology means we don’t need it.

          That might be true if traffic on the Interstates was declining. I’m pretty sure its not. Anecdotally, when I drive the interstates, they seem at least as busy as ever, maybe moreso.

          1. Anecdotally, when I drive the interstates, they seem at least as busy as ever, maybe moreso.

            I don’t disagree with or mean to exactly discount your anecdote. I didn’t mean to indicate it was entirely unused either. Rather, it’s a big ball of infrastructure spending that most of us never did and probably never will get a say in.

      2. Is it really crumbling? The Interstates that I use appear to be quite thoroughly maintained and get paved more often than necessary if anything.

        1. When I was 10 we moved to MoCo. When we’d leave MoCo, say to head into PG, you’d notice the roads suddenly turn to shit. Well, it certainly feels to my passenger-ass that MoCo hasn’t repaved those roads in the intervening 25years.

          1. I thought perhaps I just happen to use ones that are well maintained. It’s been a while since I’ve driven far from where I live.

            I don’t get how they decide what roads to pave (though I have my theories). There are roads that I drive on that seem to get paved well before they really need it, and others that haven’t been done for 30+ years and are total shit.

  3. I thought writers were supposed to be creative and have a natural curiosity? Jamie Kitman is a moron. Way to go NYT.

    1. Paying taxes is the same thing as having a say. Paying for a service is tantamount to slavery. Don’t you know anything?

      1. No no, taxes are the things we do together, voting is when we all get a say on what those things are.

  4. Macadam

    Not an ass(phalt) man, Bailey? And is black top problematic?

    1. asphalt is only part of the road composition, while macadam refers to the pavement entire.

      Why, yes, I did consume these articles on a recent wikibinge, why do you ask?

    2. Not problematic, just racist.

  5. If only society had asked this question back in the horse and buggy days.
    Are horseless carriages really what we need?

    1. We replaced the horse with a Union driver.

    2. Or put differently, “If only Horses paid dues.”

  6. Shouldn’t society have a say

    Yes, and that is what markets provide.

    1. Exactly. The market IS society choosing. Some people just don’t like the results of other people’s choices and wish to find a way to substitute their preferred choices. Generally by wrapping it up in the language of democracy and saying that “the people” don’t want driverless cars. “The people” being mainly those who benefit from not having driveless cars.
      Sort of like if the government decided that every person of above median income was required to employ a personal assistant or ladies maid. Instant “democratic majority” vote against allowing people to fire their person assistants and ladies maids. The people have spoken! Is a lack of personal assistants what society really needs? 50.1% of the population says no!

  7. Kitman also worries that the advent of driverless cars will force governments (which have not been asked) to spend more on building and maintaining better roadway infrastructure

    Isn’t that one of those feel-good bipartisan spending projects everyone can get behind?

    1. Not in the 21st century. The current enlightened position is to deliberately allow roads to become bad (or to make them that way) so that people are pushed into using socially-responsible public transport rather than their selfishly-evil private autos. Building and improving roads is a Trumpian thing – even an alt-right thing – racist, sexist, and too apt to give jobs to burly men, leaving women and children hardest hit.

      1. The current enlightened position is to deliberately allow roads to become bad

        That is the explicit position of the California government.

      2. I have thought this too. Progtopian cities like DC are actively against the private self-driven auto and the streets are in terrible condition. They want to re-make the road as a “smart street” with a single lane for cars and another for bicycles and pedestrians. They also want to eliminate parking too, which would become obsolete with driverless cars. So I am guessing they are going to let current streets continue to deteriorate until they can rebuild them as smart streets. It will also discourage more people from driving there.

  8. “What’s this ‘we’ shit, Kemosabe?”

    1. In this context, it is a rhetorical device used to sidestep diversity of thought and action in favor of a vague feel-good notion of collective unity, and to stifle dissent by creating fear that larger forces are pushing unwelcome change on some unidentified group of people.

      1. Good point; but there’s another way of looking at it, namely that when a proggie says “we” he really means “me.”

  9. This is all part of the larger overarching worldview that treats jobs as a form of communal property.

    1. It actually comes straight out of Marx. If market forces are created by society, why can’t society control them?
      (Yes, if you mean you want to totally control everything people are allowed to spend money on! Derp!)

  10. Where are our jetpacks? This is just another flying car scenario. Whether we want driverless cars is irrelevant. We won’t be having driverless cars for decades to come.

    1. Hold on tight Fist, the EM Drive will give us flying cars, jetpacks, AND make fossil fuel obselete by making space travel super cheap– enabling orbital solar panels. (Long video, but worth it if you have the time.)

      1. But I want ballistic transport. I want to be fired out of a cannon or lofted by a catapult, then caught by a giant net or catcher mitt at my destination.

        Why can’t the free market ever provide me with the things I want? I need to hire a lobbyist.

        1. “Fire me, boy!”

          1. in other news, Trump introduces line of “You’re Fired!” transportation cannons.

        2. The acceleration can get a bit rough on longer trips.

    2. Where are our jetpacks?

      We’d better get jetpacks first. I don’t see the likelihood of their invention going up once we start letting TOP CARS weigh in on the matter too.

  11. …flood the roads with cheaper, faster, and more convenient transportation.

    Where is that happening with driverless cars?

    …switching to fleets of ride-shared driverless vehicles will dramatically reduce congestion, free up massive amounts of urban land now devoted to servicing and storing automobiles, and reduce the amount of roadway infrastructure needed to supply transportation needs.

    This seems like pure fantasy to me. Those fleets are going to have to be stored somewhere, and close by too.

    1. Those fleets are going to have to be stored somewhere, and close by too.

      Hilariously, for large parts of the country, this will only be true seasonally. I see a marvelous future where we have to support the Interstate Highway System so that massive fleets of driverless vehicles can flock Southward for the winter.

      1. What is the group-wise plural for self-driving cars? Gaggle? Googolplex?

  12. A perplexingly stupid op-ed against [anything, really] in the New York Times

    Being redundant does not mean you’re not correct, of course. But it is, nevertheless, being redundant.

  13. Are driverless cars really what we need?

    God forbid we leave an important question such as ‘what to we need’ to be answered by “We” – each of us humans of will – rather than the other “we” – the East Coast arrogant pseudo-intellectuals that write for the New York Times.

  14. Even more perplexingly, Kitman worries about what will happen to mass transit when people can summon driverless car rides with a tap on their mobile phones

    People can do that now. They are called taxis. Making taxis driverless isn’t going to make them any different than they are. It will only make them a bit cheaper. Taxis are pretty cheap in a lot of urban areas, especially with the rise of Uber and Lyft. And most people sitll choose to drive their own cars. The rise driverless cars isn’t going to change that because the price of taxis, being cheap to begin with, can’t really fall that much.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why otherwise intelligent people think that driverless cars are going to be some radical improvement of the current car hire and taxi system. In fact, they are likely to be much worse. No driverless taxi is ever going to drive as fast or aggressively and get you to where you are going as fast as a human driven one. And as someone pointed out on another thread, people do disgusting things in cabs right now with drivers there to see. Driverless cabs will become nothing but hookup joints for people on the low down. They will be about as clean and comfortable as a public bathroom.

    1. Taxis would already be cheaper if government didn’t limit the supply.

  15. And driverless trucks are not going to replace truck drivers until the market and the public trusts them enough to no longer need any human oversight. Otherwise, they are pointless, since you would have to pay a qualified driver to be there anyway. And when you consider the safety and network security issues involved and the accompanying liability issues, that isn’t going to be any time soon.

    Driverless vehicles are going to have an impact. But it will be in places like mines and farm fields not really on the roads replacing human driven cars in very large numbers.

    1. I suspect that teamsters are going to insist by regulation, that a driver must be in the vehicle.

      Probably have to engage in some response action every minute or so to prove they are in the drivers seat.

      1. Even if they don’t, the liability issues will require it. Imagine the resulting lawsuit after someone is killed by a driverless truck that made a mistake. “If only the greedy corporation would have had a driver there to take over in cases like this, my client would still be alive”. The plaintiff’s closing argument writes itself. No amount of “but overall it is safer” is going to help such a defendant with a jury.

        1. The liability would not be on the owner of the vehicle, it would be on the maker of the vehicle.

  16. Need? Who cares – I want a driverless car. Who is the NYT to say I cannot have one, should it become available?

    1. As long as you are willing to take responsibility for the thing, you should be able to have one.

  17. My ambivalence about driverless cars is ALL about the likely impacts of the technology on my freedom to make the choice to drive my own vehicle, to travel anonymously, etc.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with saving the jobs of taxi drivers, truck drivers, or anyone else.

    When I assess the pluses and minuses of the technology, the creative destruction aspects all go into the plus column.

    Eliminating the need for human physical labor will someday be seen as a time of liberation–like Abolition. Someday, people will look back and say, “Can you believe that in the old days, people used to treat each other like beasts of burden”?

    It’s sad to see people cling to unproductive work because they’re afraid they’ll never be worth more on the market than what they can do physically. Useful toil is one thing, but pointless toil is torture.

    If Melville had written “Bartleby the Scrivener” today, he might have set it in the near future and made Bartleby a useless taxi driver. “Bartleby”, incidentally, necessarily belongs in the libertarian canon.

    1. When you drive yourself, you can choose how you will drive; which traffic laws to obey which ones to ignore, which route to take and so forth. A computer controlled car will take all of that out of your hands. That is going be much less appealing to most people than the boosters of this technology think it will be. Indeed, if there is one thing that should give you pause about this technology and the possible malevolent intentions of its backers, it is that they can’t understand why taking the way in which you drive out of your hands could possibly be a bad thing. They honestly think everyone being controlled by a set of government mandated parameters is a good thing.

      1. i see another issue.
        right now, we have a system that hurts the very poor. you lose rights to drive from a parking ticket you couldn’t pay. right now, they can still manage to get to work if they break the law and drive.
        but if we can top down automate, why wouldn’t the dmv disable your car when you don’t pay? now, they can’t drive to work, so they lose their job. still cant pay the original ticket, let alone all the fines for being late.

        1. That is exactly what they would do.

        2. what the fuck is the DMV fining them for if the car is following govt route instruction?

          1. registration, then. idk.

            1. i feel like my smart car should be auto-renewing its registration, but yeah, I can see that.

      2. Yeah, it’s about qualitative things for me.

        It’s the same thing for me with airplanes. I don’t have a pilot’s license, yet, but that’s on the bucket list.

        I want one of theses newfangled Pipe Cub variants. I want to fly it out into the wilderness and camp–like a bush pilot. It’s amazing that they still let anybody who wants to fly have a license after 9/11. I suspect it’s because flying is a popular hobby with people who are wealthy and make campaign contributions.

        The reason we still have the freedom we do isn’t because of the Constitution. It’s for three reasons:

        1) The American people won’t put up with taking them away.
        2) It’s cost prohibitive.
        3) The technology to take our freedom away doesn’t exist yet.

        For instance, the reason they didn’t track all of our emails and phone calls before was because it was prohibitively expensive to do so and because the technology to do so didn’t exist yet. Once it became technologically possible and feasible from a cost perspective, they started tracking all our emails and phone calls. The Fourth Amendment only gets in the way if you can’t find a judges to sign off on a court order to Verizon.

        Same with driverless cars.

      3. Any technology that can be used by the government to help ensure our safety at the cost of our freedom will eventually be used by the government with that excuse. The only thing that really stands in the way is the public’s unwillingness to trade in their freedom for promises of security.

        God bless stupid rednecks who refuse to trade in their guns for stupid reasons.

        Good reasons are fine! But God bless the “stupid” qualitative reasons, too.

        We might need to get like that with driverless cars. There may need to be an NRA on the issue of driverless cars.

        1. National Roadmasters Association.

    2. Some people will “never be worth more on the market than what they can do physically”. I’m not assigning this a moral judgement, but it is objectively true.

      1. Yes. And amazingly enough, eggheads like Bailey are always okay with reducing the value of physical labor.

      2. Maybe those people will be bred out of society like the neanderthal.

        I’ve done physical labor for money, but it wasn’t useless labor. And I didn’t cling to it. I worked my way through boarding school in a factory. It was dehumanizing, repetitive work. The people I worked with were rural. They were so scared they were going to lose their jobs. When the factory closed, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to their kids. Now you can’t so easily squander your life in a factory!

        People will look back at those who clung to unnecessary toil and think they must have been mentally deranged.

      3. Nothing wrong with a hard day’s work. When I got out of high school, I stocked drywall for a while. Again, nothing useless about it. Nothing wrong with that.

        It was backbreaking, hand deforming work carrying sheets of drywall around and through partially built projects all day. I didn’t have much experience yet and the job paid well. I was afraid people would think I didn’t work hard, but I was never afraid that somebody might take that job away from me. Leaving that kind of work behind was liberating. People clinging to it like they’ll never be worthy of anything better must be old or maybe they were abused as children. It’s gotta be self-esteem issue at the heart of it, right?

        Unions and the military teach people that they’re nothing special. Capitalism depends on people having confidence in themselves and valuing their own work.

        Anybody who thinks, “If I could no longer drive a truck, I’d be worthless” needs to go into counseling–seriously.

        These are the people who are afraid they can’t compete with non-English speaking Mexicans who have no more than an 8th grade education.

    3. to travel anonymously,

      You’re already tracked. Anonymous travel is so 20th century.

      Since you can’t travel anonymously now, why not let the vehicle do all the work?

      1. I have no idea what you’re talking about, but even if they were already grabbing me by the balls, that’s no reason for me to drop my drawers, grab my ankles, and make it easy for them.

        Is that the way you live your life?

        If somebody’s already ripping you off, you might as well give them your life’s savings?

  18. “we” will get driverless cars when “we” figure out who the lawyers can sue if anything happens. Is it the manufacturer? The company that provided the software? And what about the most likely scenario where multiple companies provide portions of the software? The owner, who might not even be in the fool thing? The programmer who wrote the code that failed? (after 45 years in IT, I would love to see that law discussed!!!!) The person closest to where the steering wheel used to be? The third person from the left at the scene of the incident?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

    1. It is all of the above. A driverless car turns every traffic accident into a product liability suit. Product liability suits are based on the premise that the manufacturer is strictly liable for all the damage caused by its product, even when the product is misused, provided the misuse was foreseeable. Plantiffs’ lawyers have to be having orgasms over these things. Normally, the person at fault in an accident is necessarily the defendant. In a driverless car accident, everyone harmed is a plaintiff.

  19. If the Kitmans of the world had their way, we would be using candles to curry our horses. (OK, maybe kerosene lanterns)
    Jail Edison for his job killing electricity. Jail Ford et al for trying to remove horse manure from the streets of New York City.

  20. Defers to industry my ass! About as much as corporations pay business taxes. Both come back to consumers, who are the true king. Christ what an asshole.

  21. Driverless cars will never replace self-driven cars so long as people value the freedom to go where they want, when they want. I can see some urban places trying to mandate them, but they will never get rid of human-driven cars.

  22. Certain word combinations are required. For example, invective. You can never toss invective, it must be hurled.
    And likewise, infrastructure can’t be in poor condition, or even in need of routine maintenance. Crumbling. It has to be crumbling infrastructure.

    1. Infurstructure is forever crumbling just like schools are forever struggling.

      1. And government entities are perpetually underfunded and their budgets are always being cut every year.

        1. Slashed. Budgets get slashed.

          1. I stand corrected

  23. This whole subject is pretty simple. Cars are freedom. Progressives hate freedom.

    My wholly intuitive view is that for people of my parents generation, the two week driving vacation was a sign of status. When they were born, some people still farmed with horses. The airplane was barely a decade old. For them, to get in a car and go…anywhere…anywhere you please must have been an astounding thing.

    1. Pretty much that. And I find it amazing that Libertarians who claim to hate central planning and love freedom would both reject the greatest freedom enhancing technology in history, the car, and embrace a technology like self driving cars that so lends itself to central planning and control. Is Bailey really so naive and stupid he doesn’t think governments will use this technology to further central control?

      1. Just because government people expand their control every chance they get doesn’t mean they’ll do it this time. And someday, Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick the football.

      2. Ron’s far from stupid, but I suppose his unflinching technological optimism could be called a bit “naif”. But that’s kind of his thing.
        I’m a little more surprised at how many commenters are so enthusiastic about the idea.

    2. That’s what I don’t get about his supposed libertarian love for driverless cars.

      Instead of going where you want to in your own car, you are going to be shacked to going wherever this magical driverless car will, and you will be monitored by whoever owns it and probably the government.

      Owning your own car = freedom. Having to use someone else’s is not.

      1. You’re already monitored.

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