The Open Road

A strong argument could be made that the automobile is one of the two most liberating inventions of the past century, ranking only behind the microchip. The car allowed even the common working man total freedom of mobility — the means to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. In many ways, the automobile is the most egalitarian invention in history, dramatically bridging the quality-of-life gap between rich and poor. The car stands for individualism; mass transit for collectivism. Philosopher Waldemar Hanasz, who grew up in communist Poland, noted in his 1999 essay “Engines of Liberty” that Soviet leaders in the 1940s showed the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” all over the country as propaganda against the evils of U.S. capitalism and the oppression of farmers. The scheme backfired because “far from being appalled, the Soviet viewers were envious; in America, it seemed, even the poorest had cars and trucks.”
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The simplistic notion taught to our second-graders, that the car is an environmental doomsday machine, reveals an ignorance of history. When Henry Ford first started rolling his Black Model Ts off the assembly line at the start of the 20th century, the auto was hailed as one of the greatest environmental inventions of all time. That’s because the horse, which it replaced, was a prodigious polluter, dropping 40 pounds of waste a day. Imagine what a city like St. Louis smelled like on a steamy summer afternoon when the streets were congested with horses and piled with manure.
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There’s a perfectly good reason that the roads are crammed with tens of millions of cars and that Americans drive eight billion miles a year while spurning buses, trains, bicycles and subways. Americans are rugged individualists who don’t want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there.

For the full commentary, see:
Moore, Stephen. “Supply Side; The War Against the Car.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., November 11, 2005): A10.

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