Liberals may finally get their wish to eradicate car ownership, but miss the point as usual

Liberals hate cars.  The automobile, made a mass consumption item by American ingenuity, capitalism, and prosperity, is the ultimate symbol of personal freedom.  The car owner can drive wherever he wants, whenever he wants, accompanied by whomever he wants.  The milestone of owning one’s own car is a symbol of success to which many Americans aspire.  They open economic opportunity for commuters.  Cars are, for many enthusiasts, an expression of their individual style.  For many an individual living in a crowded home with a bickering wife and screaming kids, schlepping to a workplace comprised of people he doesn’t like, having to stand in line at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, those minutes in his car are a welcome respite of solitude in one’s own personal space.

These are all mindsets that liberals despise.  They decry the “suburban sprawl,” “gas-guzzling,” “road rage,” conspicuous consumption, luxury,  pollution, and overall selfishness that cars enable.  Liberals would prefer that you took the train or bus—quintessential symbols of collectivism—to travel from where they want you to be to where they want you to go, with the added benefit of being forced to mingle literally toe-to-toe with the rest of humanity.  It’s no coincidence that, unlike Europeans, Americans have not bought into large-scale rail travel.

Liberals have designed entire utopian frameworks, under banners like “smart cities” and “transit-oriented development” to centrally plan the organization of society in the manner that they find morally virtuous.  (Not to mention that liberal politicians love all manner of rail proliferation because it presents copious opportunities for graft, what with the land acquisition along future rail lines, to bloated construction and maintenance contracts and overstuffed union sinecures, to boards and commissions, tax increases, and ribbon cuttings.)

This is apparently the perspective of Dan Neil, writing in Wall Street Journal, whose ideology curtails his ability to analyze the economic implications of self-driving cars in an article entitled “Private car ownership is on the road to becoming a rarity.”

We agree that self-driving cars combined with car sharing have the potential to yield tremendous benefits for society:  reducing costs, allowing people to make better use of their time, allowing more people to be mobile, improving safety, reducing congestion, and, ultimately, allowing people to expand the radii in which they can readily travel, making for great economic benefit.

That’s all well and good, but Mr. Neil can’t help but ooze disdain for the very concept of private car ownership.  He lectures that it makes us “forget the joys of selflessness” in an era of “reckless glut.”

“In 25 years, the only people owning cars will be hobbyists, hot rodders and Flat Earthers,” he gushes, failing to acknowledge any of the benefits of private car ownership other than in these supposed fringes, and barely accepting the existence of a free-market outcome that means that people have the right to express their own preference.  Referring to China, he dismisses cars as nothing more than “status item, as luxury, as totem of personal mastery in a fragile postcolonial mind-set.”  Only a coddled liberal would so glibly dismiss the ability of a Chinese subject to unshackle state control of all aspects of his life in at least one dimension.

He concludes, “The notion that we as consumers will forgo the awesome pleasures of the automobile—the privilege, the mobility, the identity—to share vehicles is, I grant, unfamiliar.”  Mr. Neal, I would respectfully recommend that you familiarize yourself with it before breezily dismissing the benefits of freedom and autonomy that cars bring to so many people.

 

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