By on November 10, 2007

mumbai-traffic.jpgOnce again, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has addressed automotive issues. This time, Friedman weighs-in on the ultra-cheap car being posited for the rapidly-growing Indian market. The gist of Friedman’s proposal: tax the stuffing out of the cheap car and put the money into mass-transit. Like most of Friedman’s auto-related rants, this one combines a handful of valid points, a couple of keen observations, a soupcon of knee-jerk utopianism and enough muddled thinking to make it impossible to support his views.

Like most Western intellectuals familiar with (if not actual users of) their home town public transportation systems, Friedman believes government has a right (if not an obligation) to manipulate urban transportation patterns for its citizen’s well-being. If these pro-mass transit thinkers harbored any doubts about the costs or consequences of this intercession, the prospect of automotive pollution and global warming removed them. 

And so the New York Times scribe surveys India’s chaotic conurbations, imagines adding millions of private vehicles, and concludes that the Indian government should heavily tax cars to prevent this eventuality.

Never mind that taxing cars beyond the reach of the middle class is a fundamentally elitist proposition, reserving personal transportation for the small percentage of India’s “haves.” Preventing India’s urban areas from generating even MORE pollution serves the greater good. Besides, Friedman says that the money will (should?) get plowed back into mass transit, which is better for the middle class– and everyone else– than owning a car. 

Have a look at the picture. Why would any member of India’s middle class want to spend their hard-earned money on a car for commuting? Immobility would limit their ability to earn enough money to pay for the car. So unless a car aids an Indian consumer’s ability to commute, they won’t buy it for that purpose. In other words, congestion creates a natural limit to car ownership. An extra tax is both discriminatory and unnecessary.

Of course, Friedman is presuming that cars = commuting. Given gridlock, perhaps Indians will buy the new, cheaper car for something other than slogging back and forth to employment: commerce, shopping, trips to distant relatives, etc. For these tasks, mass transit is not the ideal solution. If mass transit WAS the answer, people wouldn’t buy a car. This is especially true at the economic margins, where India’s new, inexpensive car will find favor. Would Friedman discourage these sorts of trips for the greater good? Apparently so.

Whether or not you agree with that consequence of Friedman’s call for draconian private automobile taxation, Friedman’s argument fails to consider a key reason why a middle class Indian WOULD opt for a cheap car over mass transit (gridlock be damned).

To assure sufficient rider volumes and maintain political equilibrium, India’s mass transit network is widely affordable. Over six million commuters use the Mumbai Suburban Railway every day; it has the highest passenger density in the world. In a country with an entire class of people called “untouchables,” middle class Indians who have the means to buy the new inexpensive car do not now, nor will they ever, prefer to share mass-transit with tens of thousands of less fortunate souls.

It's not PC to say it, but Friedman’s plan for more Indian mass transit wouldn't keep India’s middle class off the roads. Increasing mass transit will simply increase the number of less wealthy people flooding into urban centers– exponentially. The consequences of this increase are unknown, but given that there are many types of pollution (including human waste), it’s entirely possible that a larger mass transportation system may not be in the environment’s best interest.  

It may pain a writer living in a "first world" country to admit it, but environmental concerns must be always be balanced against economic prosperity– if only because most citizens value the latter more than the former (sorry, that’s the way it is). In that sense it’s worth asking if traffic congestion actually HELPS India. The more urban congestion, the more business and people move away to outlying areas, where prices are cheaper and transportation more efficient. If it works for Atlanta, Houston, LA, London, Paris and Moscow, why wouldn’t– doesn’t it work in India?

Anyway, the whole frame of reference for this debate is seriously off-kilter.

Intellectuals who learned their history in the big city tend to forget that inexpensive personal transportation has the greatest impact outside urban areas. Out past city limits, cars open up an entire world of possibilities and, thus, raise the quality of life. For America’s vast rural population, Henry Ford’s Model T created new economic markets for labor and goods, fostered social mobility, improved public health and increased genetic diversity. By shrinking distances, a cheap Indian car would liberate time that the rural poor could use for more efficient economic endeavor and/or education. 

Any government looking to improve the well-being of its citizenry should think long and hard about raising the “floor” to automobile ownership. As should Tom Friedman.

[You can read Mr. Friedman's column here.] 

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85 Comments on “Why NYT Scribe Tom Friedman is Wrong. Again....”


  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I respected Friedman until he started writing on automotive issues where he is clearly out of his depth. Thanks, Robert, for bringing some reason to the issue.

    PS: how many Indian politicians will vote to tax autos based on the rantings of a NYT editor? How many middle class Indians will decide against buying the car they’ve been saving towards for 5 years, because of an article they read in the NYT?

  • avatar

    Thanks for this, Robert. I really don’t think Friedman has the chops to talk cars.

    Like I’ve said before on TTAC, it wasn’t until the rise of the Indian middle class that a car would be bought without a servant/driver to go with. We are witnessing the same cultural change that America had 100 years ago. Friedman might as well tell America (circa 1911) to tax the Model T to keep congestion down. Do you think America–especially our Middle Class–would be where it is today with such a restriction?

    No way in hell. And his cell-phone analogy doesn’t hold water, because of the infrastructure and governmental hurdles. More after this quote:

    Friedman: We have no right to tell Indians what cars to make or drive. But we can urge them to think hard about following our model, without a real mass transit alternative in place.

    Its a great idea, but India’s infrastructure isn’t there. The government has had decades to improve their people’s way of life (including mass-transit) but so many (a majority?) live in Third World conditions.

    The government has to be kicked in the ass to get anything done. Including mass transit. I encourage Mr. Friedman to spend a week with an Indian middle class worker: do their crappy call center job, ride a filthy bus/train with desperately poor people who beg/steal to survive, and all that.

    I’d like to see Friedman tell that person they shouldn’t be able to afford a cheap car.

    Then to talk to an Indian politician to see if they’ll do something to fix the real problem: class disparity.

    The only way to get the government off their collective asses is to have cheap cars. A mobilized Indian middle class will change the country for the better…just like it did in America over 100 years ago.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The more urban congestion, the more business and people move away to outlying areas, where prices are cheaper and transportation more efficient. If it works for Atlanta, Houston, LA, London, Paris and Moscow, why wouldn’t– doesn’t it work in India?

    It doesn’t work for cities such as LA and Atlanta (and Chicago and Seattle and an abundance of American cities.) They are hitting saturation points, e.g. gridlock, and car dependency generates long commutes (read: economic losses) and over utilized infrastructure that effectively subsidizes the commuters at the expense of lost time and environmental damage.

    London and Paris both have extensive transit systems, and London has its (in)famous “congestion charge.” Those two are exemplars of what Friedman is talking about — high driving taxes — and they actually seem to work better than do a lot of American cities that don’t have meaningful public transit.

    There are no optimal answers, but more cars on roads that can’t handle them, burning oil that is becoming increasingly expensive, is absolutely not the answer. Particularly when that country has a population that is triple that of the US, which is developing its appetite for resources rapidly, has nuclear weapons, and just happens to have a near-mortal enemy that is also one of the US’ key allies in its current wars.

    In the case of India with its ridiculous but pervasive caste system, the non-PC answer would be to have a very nice quasi-mass transit system that is priced at a point high enough to keep the lower echelons from using it, and possibly to offer rebate schemes that effectively transfer back funds back to these middle class users in such a way that the refund isn’t readily available to the poor whom you don’t want using it.

  • avatar
    mimizhusband

    This is an important message. People will use mass transit when traveling alone, and going to exactly the destination that the route can take them. Oh, and did I include that it better not be raining or snowing or it is also a bad idea in that case too. Late night public transit isn’t safe for anyone that can fill a bra. Also, cars are better if you are carrying…. well, anything. Did I say that it is almost always noisier, germier, dirtier (clothing smudges are SO fun), and almost never as cheap as planners originally stated that they would be. (One recent trip on the SF Bay area system was $5, one way.) The social cost of moving people much more slowly than cars do is very large since people are a societies greatest resource and public transit is generally slower point to point than cars are.

    The list is nearly endless of why public transit is one of the bigger lies ever foisted on cities, or rural areas for that matter.

    As for India, public transit is beyond stupid. The families are moderately large, the country is spread out, many public areas are less than safe, but… I repeat myself from above.

    The only plan that might actually help India is to use Friedman’s gas tax to greatly subsidize car prices for the poor to buy even more cars, not to improve mass transit.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    What cars really do is to enable sprawl. Just as cars did not prevent the mass movement to Amercican cities during the 20th century, they will not prevent populations shifts in India.

    One of America’s biggest problems is that we have crafted a lifestyle (sprawl) that absolutely requires car ownership. I can’t imagine what will happen when there are 300 million cars on the Indian roads. They don’t even have a fraction of our road infrastructure.

    Sure, someone like Friedman can come off as pompous, but what he is saying needs to be considered rather than dismissed out of hand. Here in the US we spend more and more of each week stuck in traffic. To ignore the fact that the water in our bath is slowly coming to a boil makes us no smarter than the hypothetical frog.

    Luckily (for us), India will ignore Friedman’s advice thereby providing us with a great example of what happens when you ignore catastrophic problems.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    It must be nice to make a million dollars a year and not have to worry about pesky things like personal transportation. Private jets and limos make the whole day better, plus allow you the privilege of telling the lumpenproletariat what to do. Elitists like Thomas Friedman seem to miss a central point, the desires for automobiles and single family residences tend to be universal. Sooo, the only way to not let those desires be manifested is for the folks with the guns, i.e. government, not allow those choices. Way to stand up for incipient fascism there, Tommy!

  • avatar
    NoneMoreBlack

    As is usual with Friedman’s self-righteous zeal and cacophony of inscrutable metaphors, I’m not sure what he is actually analyzing, nor what policy he is prescribing.

    If you notice, the only policy he makes specific reference to is by quoting Sunita Narain, who suggests expanding public transit, financed with “high prices for parking, [and] a proper road tax for driving,” followed thankfully by “and then let the market work.” He inaptly summarizes this as “taxing it [the car] like crazy.”

    This is in fact not crazy. If you want to reduce congestion, the only efficient policy is a tax on congestion. If the revenues are redeployed for public transit which, presumably, is used by more poor people than rich, then it is a progressive redistribution.

    What is crazy is taxing innovation and progress by taxing a new product directly simply because it is new; however, upon subsequent readings it is not clear, at least to me, that this is what he is actually recommending.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Haven’t the people of India (And Pakistan) been harmed enough by the Cambridge/Oxford/Yale/Harvard/BBC/NYT Fabian “Axis of Evil”? The NYT should come with a warning label “WARNING: Reading the NYT will turn you into a government-worshiping elitist fool”.

    Personal transportation is the key to strength and prosperity and prosperity is the key to controlling birth-rates/population density.

  • avatar
    68stang

    I can’t comment on India or the NYT (i’m Canadian), but I will say that I used to be of the Homer Simpson school of thought. “But Marge, public transportation is for losers.” That was until moving to Vancouver. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and I miss my car alot, but I wouldn’t want to share the roads with the majority of drivers here. Witnessed one accident and two close calls and that was just an hour downtown! I don’t envy the drivers who are sitting in their cars on a gridlocked highway as I’m passing by on the skytrain.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

     robert – i agree with much of what you say. the only point of departure between us is within the following declaration: “…environmental concerns must be always be balanced against economic prosperity – if only because most citizens value the latter more than the former (sorry, that’s the way it is).” my opinion: only up to a point. the ‘money’ seems more important as long as the ‘environment’ remains acceptable. but once people realize they are chronically ill because they can’t breathe clean air; or they lose access to potable water; or the congestion that constantly surrounds them becomes suffocatingly intolerable and/or they become immobile – then suddenly, people begin to wise up and become willing to clear, and clean, things up. my only fear is that humanity seems to push this sort of thing to the brink before they finally come to their collective senses and admit they need to step back and reconsider the situation – and by then, it may be too late.

  • avatar

    There are no easy answers, but I suspect India would be better off if cars remain scarce. And certainly the world would be better off. The list of reasons Mimizhusband gives above not to tax cars can easily be countered with another list–gridlock, more air pollution (that will probably cause more deaths than the bacteria that get exchanged on public transit and which is plaguing China, and that Chinese air pollution is coming over to the US), car accidents (the rate is much higher in India than in the US, Canada, or western Europe), greater difficulty in moving goods around the country (because trucks moving goods will get gridlocked). You could always hire a car when you needed to travel or move a large amount of stuff, as my Brooklyn grandparents did when they went to the Catskills in the summer (they were both teachers). Then, too, in a country dependent on cars, there are always those–usually the poor and the infirm, who are handicapped relative to others by their lack of access to cars and driving. And furthermore, when people don't walk as much, or ride bicycles, or something, they are less healthy, which is part of what accounts for the fact that Manhattanites are healthier than most of the rest of hte country.

  • avatar

    That picture says it all. If that’ s what driving is like NOW in an Indian city, imagine what it will be like when there are tens or hundreds of millions of cars.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    You may think I’m crazy, but I see parallels between Friedman’s proposed ‘car tax’ and calls that many have made for a significant increase in fuel tax.

    Even crazier still is that I think RF inadvertently made the argument against increased fuel taxes with this article.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    In Toronto, I recently tried the GO Bus as an alternative to my fully equipped E39 5-series. I spent an hour sitting next to a passenger slurping on noodles and dog chunks, listening to the obnoxious whine of the GMC supercharged diesel, overhearing dozens of cell phone conversations, and generally hating my fellow citizens.

    This is the socialist utopia that the environmentalists dream of, while they, the elites, cruise the Gardener Expressway in my BMW.

    Not a chance, Comrade.

  • avatar
    morbo

    The elite’s in the Democratic People’s Republic of New York (comrade state to the People’s Republic of New Jersey) are always hating on the suburban automobile owner. They’ve now extended that hatred to dirt poor Indians.

    To be blunt, as a Garden Stater familiar with NYC, Tom Friedman talks out of his ass about 75% of the time. He has no conception of how the world works north of 125th street or west of the Lincoln Tunnel. His utopia of of mass transit presumes that the rest of the world is like midtown Manhattan, where employment, shopping, healthcare, and leisure can all be had in a 3 mile radius. Oh, and that everyone in the world can afford to live there.

    Tom Friedman’s lack of intellectual honesty is evident in the recent decision of the NYT to stop charging for access to his rants, err, editorials. The internet has determined the true value of his opinion, which is remarkeably close to 0. Granted so are my rants, but unlike Tome Friedman I don’t pretend I know all and hold a real job during the week.

  • avatar

    Actually, Friedman spent years reporting from Beirut when it was like a milder version of the current Baghdad. There are valuable arguments on both sides of this issue, but labeling people as “hating on the suburban automobile owner” takes the place of seeking a better understanding of the issues. And the NYT’s decision, I believe, has more to do with how the internet works, and the wide availability of free info on it than it does with anything specific to Tom Friedman. Oh, I agree that there are people around who, due to their own psychological baggage, would like to force others to drive electric golf carts or take the bus. I don’t think Friedman is one of them, even if he has blinders in some areas, and even if he had such an attitude, I think it would still be worth evaluating what he says on the merits, rather than dismissing him as a car-hating kill-joy.

  • avatar

    If Friedman is wrong, it does more good to punch holes in his logic than to dismiss him as some sort of jerk, or ivory tower dweller.

  • avatar

    David Holzman : If Friedman is wrong, it does more good to punch holes in his logic than to dismiss him as some sort of jerk, or ivory tower dweller. I think his logic led many commentators to this conclusion. Still, it's a valid point.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Johnny Canada (And P.J. O’Rourke) make a good point:

    Pedestrians Suck!

  • avatar
    tentacles

    I’m a car enthusiast and I fully support Friedman’s position. He’s just brave enough to say what borders on blasphemy to most gas guzzling Americans.

    It’s simple economics, really. More people having cars is both a good thing (people can get around more quickly and conveniently), and also a bad thing (more pollution, traffic, etc). The problem is that the positive in this case is private, since the owner of the car personally reaps the benefits of ownership, while the downside is socialized, since all of society pays the cost of increased pollution, infrastructure, etc. This is a classic “Tragedy of the commons”. We all know what *should* be done, but there’s no economic incentive for each individual to do the right thing, so we all sit around looking at each other like frogs in a pressure cooker while everything goes to shit.

    The best solution is more taxes – I would say taxes on fuel are the best way to do it. I hope all governments everywhere do the economically smart thing and jack up fuel taxes. An increase of 50% – 100% in fuel taxes here in Canada sounds about right to me. A fuel tax is the most efficient way of allocating fuel use to the most economically productive users. That’s all that’s needed – no more CAFE standards, no more governments telling us what kind of cars we should buy or how many people we should ride with, just tax the hell out of fuel and let the market sort out the rest.

    As a car enthusiast and someone who has always owned big ol’ V8s and/or turboed-to-the-gills I4s, This would be great for me – There’s no more stigma attached to enjoying a public good without contributing to the public good, since I pay the same for fuel as anyone else.

    The real root of the problem are the people who are trying to SAVE gas.
    No one who owns a Ferrari or Escalade is going to stop driving them, because these users are not AT THE MARGIN, and the margin is where the tax is going to have the most effect. Of course, we know that these people are not the problem – how many Ferraris are on the road versus how many Camrys?

    The people who ARE going to feel the impact are all those that we here on this site despise – the Camry drivers and the SUV driving soccer moms who hate driving and should really be riding the bus. I’d be more than happy to pay 2x what I pay for gas now (since my cars are pleasure vehicles only, and are lucky to be driven once or twice a week) if that means fewer of the above mentioned on the road.

    The net effect is that North America is turned into Europe – people who have cars REALLY like having them, people who don’t like cars take public transit. The common resource (clean air, free roads) will be efficiently allocated to those who can either afford to enjoy it, or can derive enough economic benefit to make it worthwile, and no one will be jumping into their Hummer to drive 3 blocks to the 7-11 because gas will be too expensive to be wasted on that kind of stupidity. Of course TTAC members will all be zooming around our pristine, mirror-like highways in our 350hp AWD Ford Focus.

    Good on Mr Friedman for sticking to his Economist principles and saying what needs to be said.

  • avatar
    roundaboutguy

    The rise of the automobile has been quite possibly the most transformative event in Americal history (second to the Civil War or Revolution, I suppose, but still…) But it has also been the most destructive. Let us not forget that for a large portion of any population (under 16, over 80, handicapped, etc.) that those unable to drive may well face a virtual prison if adequate public transportation is not available. Cities have withered and died before the mighty highway. And we would rather spend fifteen minutes in a drive-through queue than waddle into the coffee shop.

    India should consider carefully the desire to bring cars to the masses. They have their place, to be sure, but the India of 2027 may be unrecognizable to the Indians of 2007. Perhaps a robust transit program with reasonable hourly fees for fleet vehicles when a trip to the Indian BJ’s is in order, much like Zipcar here in the States.

    I am not a starry-eyed indealistic hippie – I do traffic impact studies for a living. And what I see I often do not like.

  • avatar
    morbo

    If Friedman is wrong, it does more good to punch holes in his logic than to dismiss him as some sort of jerk, or ivory tower dweller

    OK here goes.

    3rd paragraph of this wackjobs article says that the energy implicatons of India and China leading US lifestyles will be enormous for the world. Well, no sh!t Sherlock. Brilliant deduction. Maybe he can tell me the sky is blue next.

    5th paragraph talks about the troubles of having a single scooter for large Indian families, while observing the benefits Tata motors can make for the average Indian family and Indian industry. He proceeds to contradict that assement of good in his 6th & 7th paragraph by observing a single gridlocked overpass in Hyperdad (yes I know that’s not it’s name). Apparently, one badly designed intersection is enough to idict the concept of private automobile ownership for the masses of India in his view.

    8th paragraph than proceeds to make an apples to oranges comparison of cell phones to automobile ownership. India didn’t forgo landline phones because of some enlightened patience. India didn’t have money to build landline phones, or have the banking and legal infrastructure in place to ensure timely payment from the masses for services rendered. At least with cell phones, people must prepay their miuntes and the phone companies are ensured payment, but I’m getting tangential.

    Later in his article he says, “Charge high prices for parking, charge a proper road tax for driving, deploy free air-conditioned buses that reach every corner of the city, expand the existing beautiful Delhi subway system, “and then let the market work,”… I love the ivory tower approach here. Let’s deploy free air-conditioned buses everywhere. there won’t be any costs, monetary or environmental, to this. The masses will all happily co-exist, without ever dirtying, destroying, or some other way fouling this perfect transit system. I dare anyone anywhere to claim a subway system is beautiful. While I have yet to experience an overseas subway system, my experience with NYC, Philly SEPTA, Philly PATCO, Washington DC Metro, Boston’s T, Chicago’s CTA, & Seattle’s Metro lead to an empirically derived conclusion that subway systems and mass transit in general all fall into unsafe, unclean conditions with minimal usage. The ivory tower types can enjoy slumming it up with crackheads on the subway pestering/intimidating/assaulting people for money on the subway, I just want to get from point A to point B.

    Finally, he concludes that India’s apparent duty to the world is to give us cheap answers to large problems. The shear smuggery implicit in this man’s editorial is enough to make me discount anything he says. Apparently India, and by extension any car loving Western nation, could not possibly use technology to solve the environmental costs of car ownership. Hybrids, electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, none of this is mentioned as possible solutions. Only the glorious gift of mass transit bequesthed upon us ignoble masses by the always correct and perfect government.

    So yeah, I’m taking personal offense by this fallacy of mass transit. It works for Manhattan, Center city Philadelphia, and Crystal City Virgina (DC). And as far as I can tell no where else (at least in America).

    The ivory tower types love to talk about $20 gas, assuming all other factors stay constant. They ignore the probablity that some smart guy who wants to make some money will create a usable hydrogen or electric vehicle powered by CO2-less nuclear/wind/solar/tidal power that’s affordable. I won’t go into the communist/socialist inklings I get from these types, but the fact remains that there are technological solutions to the problems (and I do admit their are environmental problems) of car ownership. I just think that these have not been implemented yet because the free market has determined the opportunity costs of these solutions are still too high versus the overall economic and societal benefit widespread car ownership confers to the West.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Let me see if I understand Robert’s position.

    – Don’t tax drivers to pay for mass transit. Instead, tax everyone to pay for roadways, bridges, and tunnels. Remove arable land to build roadways and businesses outside of the urban areas. Use precious public water resources to support this non-centralized infrastructure.

    – Don’t tax drivers to curb pollution. Make everyone else pay with loss of arable land, air and water pollution, increased health problems and loss of forest areas and animal habitat.

    – Don’t invest in lower cost rail systems to move merchandise, instead make everyone pay higher and higher prices, as the price of fuel increases, and locally grown food becomes scarce due to suburbanization and road construction.

    As we are seeing right in America right now, the American paradigm Robert describes is simply unsustainable.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Of course, Friedman is presuming that cars = commuting. Given gridlock, perhaps Indians will buy the new, cheaper car for something other than slogging back and forth to employment: commerce, shopping, trips to distant relatives, etc.

    Maybe they’ll buy them to live in.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    One rule of thumb that I employ when reviewing these sorts of discussions: Those who rely heavily on banging the “socialism” and “Commie” drum to formulate a rebuttal have generally lost before they’ve started. It’s basically a way of saying, “I don’t need to come up with a reasonable response ‘cuz you’re a Red. By the way, I have this list of 57 Communists…”

    You don’t need to carry the Little Red Book with you or weep at the thought of Stalinism to realize that gridlock is costly, roads are expensive and consume a lot of real estate, and that smog kinda sucks.

    A few factoids for you:

    -India’s population is over 1 billion people.
    -India imports about 75% of its energy.
    -Its population density is ten times that of the US.
    -As of 2002, India had about 17 million privately-owned vehicles.

    If India had a vehicle ownership rate similar to the US, it would have perhaps 800 million cars. Does anyone think that the infrastructure there could handle 800 million cars when their present network can’t handle even a fraction of that figure today?

    And where exactly is the fuel needed to run those vehicles supposed to come from? Perhaps you’ll be driving one of those nuclear-powered aerial cars that we were supposed to have by 1970, but I suspect that my car and a lot of others are going to be running on some combination of oil and batteries for some time to come.

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Been a long time reader of this site and many times I’ve almost left a comment, but after reading this article I just had to. Your article, due to its brilliance Mr. Farago, should be obligatory reading to all of our third world imbecile leaders (including my own)! You’ve hit any number of nails squarely on the head. Unfortunately most of them, specially in Southern Latin America, are Euro-centric snobs who don’t realize that one of our countries’ greatest strenghts are our open spaces, with relatively few people. Yet they think like they’re in Europe where space comes at a premium!
    In my country, due to some recent growth, unprecendented numbers of people are having access to their first cars. In fact due to easy credit we’re having a record breaking year in car sales and profits (more than 15% in sales and more than 2 million cars in a year, the first time in history). And now, when we’ve gained this, some pols come along saying cars are polluting and the air in unbreatheable, and traffic is at a standstill. Wrong! What they don’t want to do is invest in infrastucture and spend our tax money on ungodly personal schemes. (Sigh!)
    What third world copuntries need is to circulate and generate more money for everyone.
    Thanks for listening!

  • avatar
    brownie

    This Friedman piece (and almost every article about non-Western transportation and energy use) smacks of paternalism; could there be a more clear case of “do as I say, not as I do?” Nations deserve the right to handle their own affairs.

    Setting aside the notion that Indian leaders are too ignorant to effectively lead their nation without the guidance of Western commentators, let’s take a few of the arguments that have been brought up:

    -“Roads are already gorged with the brown, sweaty masses, and it will only get worse with more cars!” Yes, and only we brilliant Westerners have the brainpower to notice? I’m pretty sure Delhi residents can tell the difference between moving and sitting still, and will make their own urban planning and transit choices accordingly. Then again, who knows? They didn’t enjoy the benefits of America’s fine public school system, so maybe they can’t tell the difference between moving and sitting still.

    -“Think about what would happen to energy prices and energy infrastructure if two thousand gazillion yellow people owned cars!” It has been a while, but I seem to remember something in freshman economics that says that somewhere along the way from today to two thousand gazillion cars on the road, oil demand would drive prices to a level that would discourage car ownership. What do they call that again? Surprise and da man? I can’t remember. But I understand the Western concern – the equilibrium price might just be higher than 50 cents a barrel, so it will cost us more than $5 to fill up our 2mpg Ford Excess every week. Just a thought. But I’m no economist, so I could be wrong.

    -“The savages’ choices don’t just affect them; they are ruining our environment!” Absolutely! We lucky Westerners got to burn all the fuel we wanted over the centuries to get where we are, and now that we’re here, don’t we deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labors without having to suffer the side effects of the rest of the world catching up? Why can’t they just be happy with their lot? I’m perfectly happy with mine; fair is fair. Oh, fine, if they insist on earning more than $1 per day per capita (honestly, do they really need even that much?) can’t they just figure out some other way to do it? I mean, besides the way we did it. So what if we are the ones who put the environment in the state it is in! Tough luck for them – if God wanted them to be able to afford one Big Mac every other month, he would have made sure they were born in America.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    It’s not a question of the “state we put the environment in”. Yes, we created some enormous problems. And, yes, it certainly seems arrogant to suggest that rapidly-developing nations like India consider the risk of uncontrolled growth in the number of cars. But the fact is that China and India are set to consume the lion’s share of oil within the next decade.

    I think the real reason for the hyperbolic response to Friedman’s suggestions is that in it we see the inevitable end of the era of endless sprawl and cheap gas. I suggest that if one equates cheap gas with freedom, they aren’t thinking straight.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Robert,

    I’m really happy that you brought up this issue.

    Being of Indian descent and growing up in New York, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this article. I believe that cheap vehicles are going to benefit India in the long run. While the country does not have the infastructure to handle increased transportation at the moment, such offerings will force the government to start paying more attention to this issue. Let us keep in mind that this is a country whose government has to be dragged kicking and screaming by private industry into economic growth. Taxing vehicles simply will not result in a better public transportation system if the government is left to it. If nothing else, congestion will lead private industry to create a better rail system to create profits and increase efficiency (similar to how Rockerfeller and Vanderbuilt did here). Even then, there is not way to ensure that such a system of public transport will be useful enough to work. Outside of NYC, Washington D.C., and a few other major cities, it is difficult to find a public transport system that is more efficient than private transportation. Hell, if Boston can’t even get it right, how do you expect India to? The idea put forth in the article could be applied much more effectively in China, where the government is the major force behind economic growth.

    As a side note, perhaps Mr. Friedman should picking on those individuals who feel the need to Hummers in NYC. Not only is it environmentally unfriendly, it is also completely inefficient. Until the U.S. has a gas tax and all major cities (not just manhattan) decide it is time to adopt a london-style levy on vehicles, perhaps the pot should stop criticizing the methods of the the kettle. The reason we don’t have these measures is the same reason India will not; democratic leaders hate upsetting constituents.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “One of America’s biggest problems is that we have crafted a lifestyle (sprawl) that absolutely requires car ownership.”

    How do you square that argument with the fact that the US today has a population more concentrated in it’s cities than ever before? Rural America has been emptying out for many, many decades while a handful of large cities continue to grow. At the same time we keep hearing about the horrors of sprawl. The fact is that the US today has more land mass covered in hardwood forest than it did 50 years ago. US farms continue to feed the nation and export around the world as well as now also being pressed into service for corn ethanol for fuel. While some sunbelt cities are growing like gangbusters, other cities in the rustbelt are shrinking. Cleveland, OH and many others like it are actually getting smaller:

    http://blog.cleveland.com/plaindealer/2007/08/our_shrinking_city.html

    All the furor about sprawl is at best narrow minded and one-sided. Oddly enough, college educated “liberal-minded” urban planners and their central committees are a big part of the reason why the newer cities are so spread out. The greater San Jose, CA area would have a whole lot more moderate density condo complexes next to office buildings if the planners would let it happen, but modern planning doctrine forces separate zones for residential, commercial, industrial and retail uses. It is this planned forcing apart of the functions of life which causes much of a growing city’s traffic problem. That and the fact that in places like Silicon Valley the government encourages job growth while artificially restricting housing growth.

  • avatar

    @jthorner

    “One of America’s biggest problems is that we have crafted a lifestyle (sprawl) that absolutely requires car ownership.”

    How do you square that argument with the fact that the US today has a population more concentrated in it’s cities than ever before?

    Sprawl is an urban phenomenon. Most Americans have major commutes to and from work, as well as to where they shop and/or entertain themselves.

    Which means that this has nothing to do with rural/urban – this is an urbia/suburbia problem, suburbs to “burb.”

  • avatar

    carlos.negros

    As we are seeing right in America right now, the American paradigm Robert describes is simply unsustainable.

    Huh? What do you mean by “unsustainable” and what evidence do you have to support the contention that America’s traffic patterns are unsustainable?

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Robert Farago:

    “What do you mean by “unsustainable” and what evidence do you have to support the contention that America’s traffic patterns are unsustainable”

    Traffic patterns are one aspect, but you also argued for suburban development.

    It is our reliance on heavy energy consumption, trucking, enormous investments in roads, highways, and bridges, and the inefficiances of having to transport food, especially, thousands of miles before consumers can buy it. Additionally, suburban expansion has lead to larger houses, which require more energy to heat and cool. This has also devastated contigious habitat, which is not at all the same as how much “hardwood” we have.

    As gas prices rise to over $100 per barrel, with no end in sight, the vast majority of Americans are using their money to pay for increased energy and food costs. Retail sales are suffering, and a recession is either here or at hand – with no clear way out. Soon there will be huge layoffs, which will lead to more bankrupsies, foreclosures, and will increase the credit crisis. This is all due to the thinking error inherent in the bigger, faster, more consumer philosophy.

    These are the facts and this is why international capital is running away from the U.S. and from the dollar. We are energy hogs. We are living in debt. Our economy is on the verge of recession or worse. There is no clear way out. And it is mostly due to the way we have chosen to live since the end of WWII, especially the decisions to use tax money to fund road instead of public transportation.

    So, beyond traffic patterns, the whole assumption that an economy is more efficient when people are spread out then when they are concentrated, is dependent on cheap energy. The petroleum age is coming to an end. It is true that we may be able to find a technological way out of this mess; the elusive battery, or some other breakthrough. But we have been wasting time. The Atomic bomb wasn’t developed by the private sector. We need leadership.

  • avatar

    carlos.negros :

    I wish I shared your pessimism.

  • avatar
    brownie

    But the fact is that China and India are set to consume the lion’s share of oil within the next decade.

    And? So what? This line of reasoning betrays the fact that this entire discussion is about the West’s desire for cheap oil.

    The hypocrisy here is just aged to perfection – simply magnifique! We tell Asia to open its markets so we can sell them things, but when the free market might just mean permanently higher oil prices… well, the free market must not be working if we have to pay more for something!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The hypocrisy here is just aged to perfection

    The US has a policy that you would consider to be blatantly hypocritical in respect to nuclear weapons. It has decided that it can and should have nuclear weapons, but that you, I, Osama bin Laden and a whole host of nations and would-be terrorists should not. While the United States has an entire arsenal of nukes, it certainly doesn’t want either North Korea or you to have them.

    In other words, hypocrisy is not the issue; practical consideration for outcomes is. The United States and other western nations lead a consumptive lifestyle that is sustainable only if a few of us are allowed to indulge in it. This level of resource gluttony cannot be supported if all 6+ billion of us get in on it.

    The problem at the moment is that China and India alone comprise one-third of the world’s population. Not only does that potentially add a couple of billion consumers vying for resources that have been largely the dominion of a minority of the world’s population, but they also happen to be large enough to amass militaries to fight for them if they so choose.

    Does anybody in the United States honestly want to go up against a well-armed China or India in a contest for resources? We have enough trouble fighting off some ragtag insurgents in Iraq, so I am not optimistic about our odds against a couple of potential megapowers that could be ready and eager to compete for resources in the next 20-30 years. That’s a fool’s game, and I’d prefer not to have to play it.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I would imagine that soaring gasoline prices alone, without any self-gratulatory hand-wringing, will do enough to eliminate gridlock, reduce pollution, and reduce funds available to build new highway.

    I have already noticed a dramatic reduction around here in traffic congestion (which never even achieved the status of gridlock). And in a city not far from here, the gridlock has been largely eliminated. It is actually pleasant to drive there, instead of a source of extreme frustration.

    I wonder how quickly the Friedmans of the world will notice these changes which will inevitably become too apparent to ignore, the higher gasoline prices get.

  • avatar
    mrcknievel

    Pch101

    Does anybody in the United States honestly want to go up against a well-armed China or India in a contest for resources? We have enough trouble fighting off some ragtag insurgents in Iraq, so I am not optimistic about our odds against a couple of potential megapowers that could be ready and eager to compete for resources in the next 20-30 years. That’s a fool’s game, and I’d prefer not to have to play it.

    To avoid turning a conversation about cars, into a prolonged debate about military strategy I’ll just say..direct warfare against a uniformed army of a sovereign nation is ENTIRELY different than warfare against individual criminals that shamelessly hide among the civilian populace. The United States military, even in it’s current state is more than capable of confronting the Chinese or Indian Armed Forces. In a few decades (even by China’s estimate) that may change..but for now…

    I argee with most of the rest of your opinion though…

  • avatar

    The more urban congestion, the more business and people move away to outlying areas, where prices are cheaper and transportation more efficient. If it works for Atlanta, Houston, LA, London, Paris and Moscow, why wouldn’t– doesn’t it work in India?

    To be honest, I thought this was sarcasm at first. The problem is that prices are not necessarily cheaper in outlying areas, at least not in the LA area. Especially when you factor in the required cost of having a car since there are no public alternatives whatsoever.

    As for this idea “working” in those cities, well my 12 mile commute along the 405 in LA can take 1.5 hours in the afternoon. If that’s your idea of “working” then I’d hate to see what “not working” would be.

  • avatar

    Larry P2: what part of the world are you in? I have not noticed any relief of congestion in the Boston area.

  • avatar

    Jthorner:
    “One of America’s biggest problems is that we have crafted a lifestyle (sprawl) that absolutely requires car ownership.”
    How do you square that argument with the fact that the US today has a population more concentrated in it’s cities than ever before? Rural America has been emptying out for many, many decades while a handful of large cities continue to grow.

    Simple. Today’s cities are growing in a far less concentrated way then they grew in the 19th century. They are sprawling. If they were growing with the density of Manhattan, Paris, or London, public transportation probably would be practical. But in most metro areas the suburbs are becoming ever less dense.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    “practical consideration for outcomes is” the issue.

    Nice work Pch101, I think Mr. Friedman’s point of view has been ably defended in the comments section. I am not certain why there is so much chafing over the identification of a worsening problem, and the positing of some potential moderators. Friedman is simply employing the long understood maxim: private vices must be balanced (in this case taxed) to create public virtue.

    The final paragraph, and ultimate message of the editorial seems obvious rather than controversial or paternalistic. A century ago, America was brimming with resources and open spaces. Circumstances could not be more different in 21st century India.

    Friedman’s argument:

    “If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.”

    happy diwali, y’all

  • avatar
    skor

    It is truly amazing how many Americans believe they have a birthright to a certain lifestyle to the exclusion over almost everyone else on the planet. The only person more ridiculous than Friedman is John Travolta, a man who flies himself around the world, in his private 707, to lecture people about conserving fuel.

    To say that mass transit is not doable in the USA is to be ignorant of history. Prior to our postwar suburb boom, America was a nation of cities and towns connected by rail. It’s only after the end of WWII that America became one giant x-burb connected by strip malls.

    I, for one, won’t be sad to see the McMansions and strip malls tuned into ghost-burbs.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Now I get it. You folks want the elimination of the individual.

    By getting rid of the automobiles, you force us to use mass transit, dependent upon the services of others instead of ourselves.

    By getting rid of our suburban neighborhoods, you force us to live in congested apartments.

    By stripping away our mobility, by forcing us to become dependent on public services, it puts us one step closer to become proles.

    Controlled like sheep, hidden in the idea that we’re saving the world.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    “Private vices must be balanced (in this case taxed) to create public virtue.”

    This sound to me suspiciously like John Galbraiths private afluence -public squalor arguement. which, like a moron or a keynesian economist(maybe I repeat myself), he suggested taxing the private wealth to reduce the public squalor; you can guess how well that works.
    The major problem is that the state plans mass transit and like any central planning board, it has its own special interests. The only way forward is get the state out of tranportation and transport suppliers and users will figure it out.

    any state always spends more because once it is put up it becomes a cost center which either spends vast sums to keep it pristine ie parks or very little because it it doesn’t attract votes or election funds. Private suppliers see assets as providing a revenue stream.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    anyway the NYT will be dead in its current form in a couple of years. Maybe Tom should figure out how to fix that.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Now I get it. You folks want the elimination of the individual.

    Well, you caught me there. I’m a pinko commie whose goal is to enslave all of my comrades. I’m conspiring with the ethanol producers and bus companies to create a slave state that will banish all individual thought, and replace your names with social security numbers that will be tattooed across your foreheads….

    OK, time for a reality check. No, some of us are just pointing out that there may well be limits on what mankind is going to be able to get away with, and that there is a possibility that we are setting ourselves up for a big fall if we don’t anticipate the possible ramifications.

    Take a look at some of the theories as to what may have happened to destroy the society that once lived on Easter Island. (It is believed by some researchers that the local population destroyed its local ecosystem, used up what was left until it was gone, and then killed themselves off with warfare, disease and starvation as they battled for the scraps.) Then decide whether that’s what you want for us.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    quasimondo : Now I get it. You folks want the elimination of the individual.

    By getting rid of the automobiles, you force us to use mass transit, dependent upon the services of others instead of ourselves.

    By getting rid of our suburban neighborhoods, you force us to live in congested apartments.

    By stripping away our mobility, by forcing us to become dependent on public services, it puts us one step closer to become proles.

    Controlled like sheep, hidden in the idea that we’re saving the world.

    No, Quasi, you don’t get it. I don’t think anyone wants the “elimination” of the individual. However, some degree of concern for the “common good” of ALL of the individuals would be a refreshing change.

    By not having the option of using mass transit, people like you, Quasi, force us to use automobiles, dependent upon the services of others (auto manufacturers; mechanics; road construction companies; city, county and state road maintenance crews; oil companies; corrupt dictatorships running the countries that own oil reserves and that squeeze our country by our collective balls.)

    By not having the option of living in city apartments, you force us to live in isolated suburban neighborhoods.

    High gasoline prices and continued auto dependency are already stripping away our mobility, and our auto dependency also forces us to become dependent on public services (the government agencies that regulate the manufacture and safety of automobiles, the importation and refining of petroleum produects, the building and maintenance of our highway systems.)

    Controlled like sheep, hidden in the idea that we’re free.

  • avatar
    veefiddy

    RF you say “environmental concerns must be always be balanced against economic prosperity” but many would argue that given even the least worst climate change models, environmental concerns = economic prosperity, or on the other side of the coin, “no concern for the environment = economic doom”. I am not defending Friedman’s piece or thinking, I’m not a fan. But what I would love at some point on TTAC is your (RF’s) position on exactly what the transport industries should do to address/react to the paradigm shift that, in a lot of people’s view (and mine), has already begun. It is fair enough (and entertaining) to snark on the bogosity of Toyota’s greenwashing and hybrid Escalades. But, please, someone, tell me, tell them, what the hell should THEY(car OEMs, governments) and US (car buyers) be doing in this here 21st century to deal with the petro/carbon endgame.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Wasn’t Dean Kamen supposed to have Segways in the hands of all these people by now?

    Since we let them develop nuclear technoligy virtually unchecked and they also make a slew of tiny crappy eletric cars for export already, it would seem to me they already have the solution in hand.

  • avatar

    Now I get it. You folks want the elimination of the individual.

    By getting rid of the automobiles, you force us to use mass transit, dependent upon the services of others instead of ourselves…

    Stirring parallel syntax, but theatrics aside I don’t think anyone here is advocating a world without cars. But just like everything else cars have their drawbacks, and when they are sole means of transportation those drawbacks become serious problems. For instance, I don’t consider the gridlock that surrounds my neighborhood during the week to be particularly liberating. The fact that there are zero viable alternatives to slugging it out in bumper to bumper prevents people from venturing out unless its an absolute necessity.

    I don’t think the NYT article is suppose to be about some transcendental notion of individuality, its about the practicality of having 800 million cars driving around in a single country.

  • avatar
    skor

    @ quasimondo :

    Now I get it, you want to force poverty and servitude on third world people so you can drive your motorized sofa two blocks to get a grease burger at the drive-thru.

    Fact is that I believe in free markets and don’t believe in forcing my beliefs on people, nor do I believe that I have a god given right to exploit anyone.

    Fact is that a couple of billion Chinese and Indians are now competing for the scarce resource of petroleum. If you recall econ 101, when more people compete for a scarce resource, the price goes up, that means our x-burb lifestyle won’t last for much longer. Car ownership won’t come to an end in North America, but the types of cars we own, and the way we use them, will change.

    BTW, I have no intention of killing any third world children so Sally Soccer-Mom can continue to put 50 cent per gallon gas in her Suburban.

  • avatar

    I once read a series of scifi short stories in which anyone could step into a booth and dial themselves to any other booth anywhere in the world. It has been over thirty years, but I don’t recall any mention of the energy costs of such a network. Such a network of devices would grant an almost miraculous freedom of movement, and would seem to be an incredible boon to mankind, but the author (whose name escapes me) wrote from the standpoint of policing such a mobile population. When any sort of news would hit the wire, uncontrollable numbers of people would dial in to be part of it. Imagine the paparazzi and onlookers around Britney/Lindsay/Paris/Diana, multiplied by thousands. Criminals would also dial in, using the cover of the crowds to roll the revelers or to smash and grab from nearby businesses.

    In one of the stories, someone was murdered in a remote area and the police were able to determine that no one had left using the one booth nearby. The crusty old detective thought maybe the perp had hiked away or driven a “chopper,” (he had to explain to the young officers how a motorcycle worked) but it turned out the perp was simply hiding nearby, waiting for the cops to dial away. With the ubiquity of cheap instantaneous transport, it hadn’t even occurred to the murderer to walk from the scene of the crime.

    It seems to me that people living a few centuries ago would consider our network of automobiles and good roads, our ability to travel hundreds of miles a day, to be almost miraculous. Yet we take it for granted to the point that we see any reduction in that mobility to be an unreasonable restriction of our freedom.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Have a look at the picture. Why would any member of India’s middle class want to spend their hard-earned money on a car for commuting? Immobility would limit their ability to earn enough money to pay for the car. So unless a car aids an Indian consumer’s ability to commute, they won’t buy it for that purpose. In other words, congestion creates a natural limit to car ownership. An extra tax is both discriminatory and unnecessary.

    Robert, thanks for the well-informed op-ed. i disagree with the above paragraph, though. it is a basic tenet of classical economics, but the assumption behind them is the homo-economicus, who takes rational decisions based on the perfect knowledge of the situation. Empirical evidence has proven time and again that this is not the case.
    A car is just as important as a status symbol than as a commuting item.
    A perceived convenience will continue to put cars on the road even when this is not practical anymore.

    While I am obviously not in favor of reserving cars to an elite, governments in India and China have the fantastic opportunity of contributing to create better cities than the Americans did, or more exactly cities more adapted to a crowded, resource-scarce 21st century environment, while American exurbs are basically the product of the 1950s.
    The arguments you make below are extremely pointed and well-informed however, in particular the mention to the cultural specificities of India.
    The idea of cars opening up rural areas is true, but is the development of exurbs really a good thing in the grand scheme of things? While it presents material advantages, it fosters individualism to the point of aloofness, the fraying of existing communities, not to mention severe environmental damages (when say, the Everglades are turned into manicured lawns). I strongly doubt those are the solution to India’s trouble. Not to mention that the cost of updating the infrastructure may well be much higher than promoting mass transit, and possibly lead to tolls that would have the same effect than taxes on car ownership.

    Unfortunately, no one has a solution to the problem of expanding cities, Friedman least of all.

    I went to a lecture from him at my school, and he already was a pompous fool back then…
    The good thing about him is that he points out at important issues. he just offers poor solutions to them.

    It has been over thirty years, but I don’t recall any mention of the energy costs of such a network. Such a network of devices would grant an almost miraculous freedom of movement, and would seem to be an incredible boon to mankind, but the author (whose name escapes me) wrote from the standpoint of policing such a mobile population.

    Dan Simmons (author of Hyperion) hypothesized that the energy cost of transferring a whole person would be too high. Instead, such teleportation devices would actually read and transfer all the information pertaining to a person (DNA, memories, body modifications..), then disintegrate that person, keeping its particles in store for the next person to teleport in, then send the information and have what is in effect a clone come out at the destination point.
    Scary, but more believable than actual teleportation.

    Oh, here’s a good alternative to gridlock in service-intensive countries (and India is slowly heading that way): telecommuting!!

  • avatar
    AKM

    sorry for the double post!

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Robert is right.

    (I will repeat that Friedman is an idiot, though that doesn’t mean he is necessarily wrong, just that you should ignore him)

    What I want to know is how public transportation is going to help the Indians who don’t live in a place like the one in the picture? How stupid to even have a conversation about a single solution being best for a country with the size and diversity of India.

    Oh ya, Friedman started it. And, actually, people do it in the US all the time. My God, we are surrounded with idiots.

    At least Robert figured it out. The market will likely solve this problem. The market can’t solve everything, but it’s better than the NYT staff well over 99% of the time.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I am always surprised when these arguments get so ideological.

    The discussion about public transport should really *not* be about either/or. From a purely practical point of view, public transport relieves private transport and should be an important element of the infrastructure.

    A bicyclist on the road is not your enemy. He is the guy who is leaving more space for you and your car. You should be grateful for him, as well as for the shmoes who are on the subway.

    I as a German am mighty glad we have the high-speed trains — they reduce congestion on the autobahns. I am happy to have a choice when I have a 300-mile trip to be taken, as well.

    From a purely self-serving point of view, we should be welcoming public transport. Every person in India or China who in the future takes a car to work will contribute to higher gas prices. What’s so good about that?

    Friedman’s article was basically about intelligent public policy. Why is it that when somebody doesn’t think that cars are a cure-all, he will be painted a pinko?

    Let’s enjoy and celebrate our cars and not be so defensive.

  • avatar
    geeber

    India is a sovereign nation, so I’m sure that it doesn’t need the advice of Mr. Friedman – or any other foreigner – to handle the challenges posed by growth and prosperity.

    And I’m sure that India is happy to be faced with the challenge of lots of newly prosperous Indians able to buy cars. That sure beats being faced with the challenge of lots of Indians trying avoid death by starvation and disease, which was a problem for that country within the lifetimes of most posters on this board.

    And people need to study a little urban history. New York City and other urban areas weren’t new urbanist utopias until that nasty Henry Ford I came along and ruined everything.

    Cities were clogged with traffic – just it was propelled by REAL horsepower. And those horses left their own exhaust on the ground, which attracted flies (which, in turn, spread disease) and could be smelled from miles away. People at the turn of the last century regularly told of being able to smell New York City from miles away because of the odor of horse manure and urine on the streets. The horse manure and urine were pounded into dust that regulary drifted into apartments, stores and office buildings (no air conditioning, so windows had to be open in the summer).

    That mess, combined with coal-fired boilers, made the air FAR more polluted in urban areas than it is today. At the time, petroleum was considered a CLEAN fuel.

    (Motorized transport brought about another benefit – horses and mules were no longer worked to death. During the summer months, it was not uncommon for overworked equines to literally drop dead in the streets. Animal welfare activists of the day welcomed trucks for their ability to free horses and mules from severe overwork.)

    Today’s air is cleaner than it has been since the industrial revolution really began accelerating in the wake of the Civil War because industries, utilities and vehicle owners have borne the cost of pollution controls and other clean-up technology. That is also why the idea that drivers aren’t “bearing the cost of pollution” is nonsense.

    Today the poorest person in any city lives a cleaner, healthier lifestyle (unless they have become addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc.) than the richest person in those areas did in the early 1900s.

    And we all live longer, too.

    If you doubt that pollution is worse today, I’d suggest you goggle “Donora, Pa.” and start reading about the “killer cloud” of noxious pollution in the late 1940s that had people almost literally dropping dead in the streets. Or come to Pennsylvania and talk to oldtimers from Pittsburgh who remember when the street lights were on in the middle of the day because the skies were filled with smokestack emissions.

    So spare me the “we’re dying earlier because we all drive” nonsense.

    What we call “urban sprawl” is really just the middle class enjoying what the rich have always liked. From Roman times, the urban wealthy have owned villas or estates in the country, away from the urban areas. Ask how many rich New Yorkers have places in the country – virtually all of them do. They, like the rich throughout the ages, want their own green space and some privacy. Suburbia offers the middle class a smaller version of this, which is why it will always be popular in a prosperous, free society.

    As for the comment that an auto-based society has meant imprisonment for the young who are not yet legally entitled to drive – young people have always been severely limited in their activities and circle of friends. Again, ask your older relatives what life was like before everyone had cars. Most young people rarely left their town, farm or urban neighborhood, because travel was expensive and time-consuming. (For example, in the 1920s, my now 94-year-old grandmother traveled with her mother from Shippensburg, near the Mason-Dixon Line, to Allentown via train to visit relatives. The trip took all day. Today it takes about two hours by car.) Plus, kids needed to WORK to help out around the house or on the farm.

    What really keeps young people tied down are compulsory education laws and an economy that provides virtually no rewards to anyone without at least some form of training beyond high school, NOT an auto-based society. An 18-year-old trying to make it on his or her own faces a tough row to hoe these days, because good jobs demand more skills and education than what is provided even in the best high schools.

    Should we change some things about our society? Sure, we should eliminate the mortgage deductions for second homes, vacation homes and properties bought on speculation. This would slow down construction and at least have the tax code treat housing as shelter, not as a means to make a quick buck.

    We should consider some form of school choice, so that families with school-age children interested in nicer, urban neighborhoods won’t be driven out by terrible urban schools (although you’ll be fighting the teacher’s unions, “advocates” for the poor and big-city bureaucrats, not GM, Ford and Chrysler or the National Motorists’ Association).

    Cities will have to embrace community policing, and be more willing to lock up chronic offenders, because crime – even petty crime – is what drives a fair number of people out of urban areas.

    Cities need to reform their tax codes to be more business friendly, and stop treating the middle classes and upper middle classes as piggy banks to pay for an inefficient, bloated bureaucracy that exists as much to provide jobs for friends and relatives as it does to provide necessary and vital services.

    Of course, bashing the car makers and people who live in suburbia and drive to work every day is easier, so I’m not holding my breath.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    London and Paris both have extensive transit systems, and London has its (in)famous “congestion charge.” Those two are exemplars of what Friedman is talking about — high driving taxes

    No quite — there is a difference between a tax on urban congestion and a tax on purchasing a car. One discourages you from making rush hour worse. The other prevents you from owning a car at all.

    If Friedman is hellbent on distorting markets so as to cut down on city congestion then fine, have a congestion tax, or very high gasoline taxes. But don’t take away their ability to own a car at all. Mass transportation can never serve ALL needs; sometimes you need your own wheels.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    There is a difference between a tax on urban congestion and a tax on purchasing a car. One discourages you from making rush hour worse. The other prevents you from owning a car at all.

    The difference is ultimately academic. Irrespective of where the tax is imposed in the system, it’s a cost increase intended to motivate or discourage certain behaviors. If the net result is to have fewer private vehicles being utilized less often, then it’s largely six of one, half-dozen of the other.

    Viewing this from a macro public policy standpoint, the issue is not one of vehicle ownership, but of mobility and transport. If mobility is made worse by forcing too many vehicles onto limited infrastructure, with environmental costs to boot, then the problem of moving people and goods between A and B will not have been solved by peddling cheap cars to the masses.

    Mass transit doesn’t work well in the US because our population densities don’t generally make it efficient. In contrast India has ten times the US’ population density and has highly populated urban areas, so it is much better suited to workable public transit solutions. At the same time, it lacks the money to build the sort of infrastructure required to support private vehicles, so it is not well suited to individual car ownership. Highways consume a lot of real estate and are costly to maintain, so if you think that Americans have a difficult enough of a time keeping potholes under control, imagine what a massive Indian highway network will look like soon enough.

    Unfortunately, these up-and-coming achievement-oriented societies such as India and China want to emulate the west, at all costs. Material goods are seen as a sign of success, of having arrived. We already see in other densely populated Asian countries that car ownership is more of a function of status than utility, it’s conspicuous consumption at its most obvious. They will want cars, even if it kills them to own them, because they tell the neighbors that you are getting somewhere, despite the gridlock that doesn’t allow you to move anywhere. In this context, cars are lot less like freedom and a lot more like cocaine. Addiction is never a virtue.

  • avatar

    Suburbia offers the middle class a smaller version of this, which is why it will always be popular in a prosperous, free society.

    … for those that can afford to commute.

  • avatar
    EJ

    In defense of Friedman: we do have a problem with rising oil prices and global warming. The thought of adding billions of new cars to the roads is chilling.
    The solution is not to deny people in India cars. The solution is to do that in a way that is sustainable.

    I think India needs a renewable fuel standard and stringent fuel economy and emissions standards, just like we do.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Donal: … for those that can afford to commute.

    Which is pretty much the majority of the middle class.

    Interestingly, during the last big runup in gas prices – the 1970s – cities did not benefit. If anything, businesses and stores accelerated the move to suburbia, where the workers area.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Interestingly, during the last big runup in gas prices – the 1970s – cities did not benefit. If anything, businesses and stores accelerated the move to suburbia, where the workers area.

    But high fuel taxes is a reason why europeans don’t have the exurbs of the U.S.
    Driving 30mn to work is considered a pretty long commute in most areas of Europe, so people tend to stay closer together.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    I will introduce a twist. I suspect that a majority of the folk who disagree with Mr. Friedman don’t spend much time agonizing over the challenges, opportunities and choices of emerging Asian economies. Not really.

    The real concern is the future of the American model; practicality, sustainability, and even viability. The increasing cost of energy, the rapid erosion of American influence around the world, and the rapid deflation of the dollar are “tremors”.

    Here’s what the former CEO and founder of energy company EnCana has to say about what’s on the horizon. Sleep well!

    http://www.globeinvestor.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071112.wragendamorgan12/GIStory/

  • avatar
    ThresherK

    I really don’t think Friedman has the chops to talk cars.

    Ah, but if he avoided every subject outside his qualifications…Well, let’s just say none of the assembled should take exception to his auto-based scribblings. He’s that wrong about a lot of things.

    Just don’t call him PC, and don’t call him a liberal. I don’t think any ideology is to blame for him.

    A liberal wouldn’t write, over a dozen times in ~5 years, “We need to give the Administration’s strategy in Iraq six months before we judge it.”

    Nor would a liberal write “This bill before Congress says Free Trade in the title. I don’t even have to read it. I’m for it!”

  • avatar

    Interestingly, during the last big runup in gas prices – the 1970s – cities did not benefit. If anything, businesses and stores accelerated the move to suburbia, where the workers area.

    I’m not saying that the cities will entirely absorb their suburbs. I don’t think they can. But I think free market development will lead the close-in suburbs, especially near transit stops, to become more and more densely populated as developers realize that enough people will pay to be closer to work.

    Commuting is only tedious now – wait until you have to sit in line to get gas. Then it will really get dicey for the commuting class.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    Thomas Friedman in no way promotes himself as an expert of anything automotive. What he does manage to do as a journalist is to get people to think. Part of critical thinking is to bring up issues and topics and allow a serious debate to develope. Kinda like what TTAC is all about.

    Is Tom Friedman 100% on point with this issue? No way. Nor is he 100% wrong. Is he a NYC liberal? you make your own call on that. Are most folks here a member of his target audience? Absolutely NOT!
    To say that he doesn’t know what he is talking about elevates him to a level that even he is not claiming to be at. Because he alreaady knows he is no expert AS WELL DOES THE MAJORITY OF HIS INTENDED AUDIENCE!
    What he is doing and what the most serious NYT readers know he is doing is simply opening the door for some discussion and debate on the future of our world and society.

    It actually is OK for some of us average Joes to think about these matters and form some opinions. Why leave it up to the “so-called” experts. What TM writes is only one man opinion of what he thinks. Please form your own opinion and add something to this whole debate, the world will be a better place when we are all concerned enough to have a opinion (right or wrong) about our problems.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Martin Schwoerer wrote:

    “I am always surprised when these arguments get so ideological.

    The discussion about public transport should really *not* be about either/or. From a purely practical point of view, public transport relieves private transport and should be an important element of the infrastructure.”

    Nice observation. I think it is the word “public” that sets some people off. They prefer the word “private.”

    But these same people think it is OK to tax me and use my money to destroy my country’s forests, air, water, and topsoil. They think it is OK to subsidize trucking companies, timber companies, corporate farms, mining companies, and oil companies, by building and maintaining roads, even roads through public wilderness areas, to the exclusion of public transportation.

    They think it is OK to use my tax money to pay millions to private mercenaries like Blackwater, to fight a war for oil, but it is not OK to pay for medicine for a poor child.

    But, these things are not OK; and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    PCH101,

    I have to strongly disagree with your assessment that where the tax is applied is academic. Not so at all.

    If you look at states that highly tax new cars, you will find that people keep their cars longer. I have no data on whether they drive less, but I doubt it correlates to tax on new vehicles. A car in the garage should not be taxed, only one using the road and polluting the air.

    As for all the pro tax people, I am only for taxes on pollution or consumption if a reverse pay go rule is applied. More power to government willl not help anyone.

    I believe the worst environmental policy of the US is the income tax. Why tax labor when you can tax consumption? What is more progressive, taxing labor to keep the poor guy down or taxing consumption to make the rich guy pay his share every time he uses resources? If you tax people’s time, they will not want to walk to work, they will want to get there ASAP. Taxing labor incentivises using machines for as much as possible rather than using labor.

    Seriously, how do the greens and the socialists get along at all? They are completely at odds with each other’s priorities.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If you look at states that highly tax new cars, you will find that people keep their cars longer. I have no data on whether they drive less, but I doubt it correlates to tax on new vehicles. A car in the garage should not be taxed, only one using the road and polluting the air.

    If the goal is to reduce traffic and driving, then it won’t matter from a public policy standpoint how it is taxed, just so long as the tax is levied and collected in amounts high enough to influence behavior. Whether you own a car and don’t drive it, or whether you don’t own one in the first place, is fairly unimportant in the macro for a policy maker whose interest is in reducing driving or traffic.

    You’re debating whether the tax is fair. I’m simply focusing on whether the policy goal would be met. The answer ultimately comes down to which policy goal you are trying to achieve.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Landcrusher wrote:
    “Seriously, how do the greens and the socialists get along at all? They are completely at odds with each other’s priorities.”

    Both the Greens and the Socialists are in favor of promoting the common good. In the case of the socialists, or small government capitalists, that is done by taxing capital and profits, and to a lesser extent, wages to pay for public institutions such as the SEC, the CDC, the EPA and so on. In the case of the Greens, they want to tax environmental destruction, consumption of resources, and promote preservation of resources.

    Is there a conflict? Yes. But the real difference is with the Big Government Capitalists. This group wants a special relationship with the government, such as tax subsidies, and no-bid contracts. They are powerful enough to take control of public lands and resources to use them for their own profit. Some examples are mining companies, timber companies, oil companies, and cattle ranching. All of these industries want access to public lands and water resources, but they don’t want to pay for them or take care of them.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    carlos.negros,

    Big government capitalists do exist, but not so much in America. They do things like Airbus and infrastructure in Europe, or in China they do even more. Big government capitalists have been kicking America’s ass for decades, but massive wealth and US innovation have mitigated the devastation to the overall economy until the present.

    In Western Europe a great deal of care has been taken to produce positive outcomes for most of society. China has supercharged and perverted the system by treating the workforce as slave labour, sometimes literally if you have read about laogai.

    Truth be told, the US auto industry kicks China’s ass, but absolutely no one bets on Detroit, everyone sees China as an unstoppable force going forward.

    That is because the government of China does what is necessary to ensure progress. Trashing the environment, treating its population like capital, and taking a long view, a patient view about industry, technology, education, research–hell, everything. Echoes of the industrial revolution in England, but lacking the vigorous democratic debate.

    In the US, small government (big)-capitalists have neutered/gutted/sabotaged the public sector so that it cannot accomplish anything. They also write the bills and laws for congressmen to enact, and cream off massive profits from no bid contracts on work that used to be ably performed by government agencies.

    McGill/INSEAD Professor of Management, Henry Mintzberg will gladly tell anyone who will listen that there are roles best played by the private sector, and others that are properly public. In a functional economy, they are mutually supportive, and even multinationals make sure their interests are in some way beneficial to their host countries.

  • avatar
    Kman

    It’s not that Thomas Friedman is out of his depth about cars, it’s that we TTAC readers are car-savvy, and see right through his failed arguments.

    The reality is that Friedman’s true skill lies in sounding reasonable and writing convincingly. As far as actual reason, logic or good arguments, I have concluded that he invariably fails — it’s just wether or not the reader has prior in-depth knowledge of the subject.

    In addition to cars, I have (as we all do) other areas where I’m quite well-versed. And when Friedman writes about them, I see the same bullshht as his automotive pieces.

    It is not unreasonable to thus conclude that I am being duped by him on those subjects with which I may not be familiar.

    He subsequently has zero credibility.

  • avatar
    geeber

    carlos.negros: But these same people think it is OK to tax me and use my money to destroy my country’s forests, air, water, and topsoil.

    Except that America’s forests are expanding, the air is cleaner than it has been in decades (and gets cleaner every year as old cars are retired), major progress has been made in cleaning up lakes, streams and rivers (when I was a kid, Lake Erie was off limits to swimmers; now the beaches along the lake are open again), and the topsoil is in fine shape. Hate to rain in your parade with good news, but…

    carlos.negros: They think it is OK to subsidize trucking companies, timber companies, corporate farms, mining companies, and oil companies, by building and maintaining roads, even roads through public wilderness areas, to the exclusion of public transportation.

    Since the mid-1970s, road users have borne most of the cost for road construction and maintenance. It is mass transit that has been more heavily subsidized.

    Since the early 1980s, a portion of the federal funds raised by the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes has been diverted from the Highway Trust Fund to non-road projects ranging from mass transit systems to bicycle paths.

    (Note that there is a state component to the all road and bridge construction and maintenance projects, as per federal law. How states raise this money is up to them. In Pennsylvania, we raise it through a combination of state gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, driver’s license fees and a portion of the state sales tax. Some of this money goes to mass transit systems, which means that someone in rural Bradford County who never uses mass transit is supporting mass transit in one of the big cities.)

    In Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell recently “flexed” five percent of the state’s federal funds meant for the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges to bail out the Commonwealth’s two biggest transit systems – the Pittsburgh Port Authority and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA, which serves the Philadelphia region.) He is permitted to do this by the federal law governing transportation spending.

    Now, this could ultimately help drivers by relieving some pressure on roads, and mass transit helps the poor who cannot afford to buy and maintain a car (not to mention those who cannot drive because of age or physical disability).

    Fine. I have no problem with that.

    But let’s stop repeating the tired old mantra that drivers are getting some sort of free ride at the expense of everyone else.

    eh_political: Big government capitalists do exist, but not so much in America.

    Since this is an automotive website, let’s start with the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, which was supported by the automakers, construction unions and other transportation companies, and lives on in various transportation acts (which must be renewed periodically by the federal government). Or the American defense sector, which leads the world in technology and innovation.

    You don’t have a complete picture of the American economy, which is far more complicated – and sophisticated – than either you or those who hate big government make it out to be.

    eh_political: They do things like Airbus and infrastructure in Europe, or in China they do even more.

    And we have companies like Boeing, which has just kicked Airbus’ ass with the Dreamliner, while the government-backed consortium known as Airbus has produced the A380, which every day looks more like a flying Edsel.

    eh_political: Big government capitalists have been kicking America’s ass for decades, but massive wealth and US innovation have mitigated the devastation to the overall economy until the present.

    The “massive wealth and innovation” have been generated by the American economy, which must mean that it has been very successful. Unsuccessful economies tend to generate poverty and stagnation.

    There is no proof that Europe or anyone else is “kicking America’s ass” across the board.

    Now, certain countries may lead in certain sectors. The Asians, led by Japan, are the leaders in automobile manufacturing, but, truth be known, they are kicking not only America’s ass, but Europe’s, too.

    Note that away from their home turf, the Europeans aren’t faring as well as the Japanese. The Japanese have been able to successfully build high-quality automobiles in America, using American labor. The European record on this one could charitably be described as “mixed.” And one cannot blame “dumb southern Americans” as some (such as the British auto magazines) have tried to do, given that Toyota, Hyundai and Honda have successfully built high-quality products in the same region, with workers drawn from the same labor pool.

    eh_political: In the US, small government (big)-capitalists have neutered/gutted/sabotaged the public sector so that it cannot accomplish anything.

    The only people who “neuter” the public sector in this country are those who use it for their own benefit, and I hate to break it to you, but most often those people are public union leadership, urban leftists who squawk about “evil big business” while lining their own pockets, or big-city and Washington, D.C. bureaucrats who view maintaining their own personal fiefdoms as more important than serving the public.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    eh_political: Big government capitalists do exist, but not so much in America.

    Since this is an automotive website, let’s start with the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, which was supported by the automakers, construction unions and other transportation companies, and lives on in various transportation acts (which must be renewed periodically by the federal government). Or the American defense sector, which leads the world in technology and innovation.

    **Uh, the first example is from 1956.

    The second example is dizzyingly complex, but could also be characterized as a series of black boxes, lacking the sort of transparency that could be held up as a model of efficiency, inefficiency or an example of anything. At present, the military is having a miserable time of it with contract workers and private suppliers. Haliburton, Blackwater et al have not distinguished themselves in Iraq, and I am certain there will be a major review of these relationships going forward.

    You don’t have a complete picture of the American economy, which is far more complicated – and sophisticated – than either you or those who hate big government make it out to be.

    **I posted this earlier, have a look: http://www.globeinvestor.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071112.wragendamorgan12/GIStory/

    eh_political: They do things like Airbus and infrastructure in Europe, or in China they do even more.

    And we have companies like Boeing, which has just kicked Airbus’ ass with the Dreamliner, while the government-backed consortium known as Airbus has produced the A380, which every day looks more like a flying Edsel.

    **Agreed, and my point entirely. Airbus shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it competes with Boeing, created new industries and skill sets in Europe. From time to time it has put the hurt on Boeing, and Europe will ensure that it does not fade. If Boeing bets the farm and stumbles, what happens?

    eh_political: Big government capitalists have been kicking America’s ass for decades, but massive wealth and US innovation have mitigated the devastation to the overall economy until the present.

    The “massive wealth and innovation” have been generated by the American economy, which must mean that it has been very successful. Unsuccessful economies tend to generate poverty and stagnation.

    There is no proof that Europe or anyone else is “kicking America’s ass” across the board.

    Now, certain countries may lead in certain sectors. The Asians, led by Japan, are the leaders in automobile manufacturing, but, truth be known, they are kicking not only America’s ass, but Europe’s, too.

    Note that away from their home turf, the Europeans aren’t faring as well as the Japanese. The Japanese have been able to successfully build high-quality automobiles in America, using American labor. The European record on this one could charitably be described as “mixed.” And one cannot blame “dumb southern Americans” as some (such as the British auto magazines) have tried to do, given that Toyota, Hyundai and Honda have successfully built high-quality products in the same region, with workers drawn from the same labor pool.

    **Bottom line is that Asian and European countries don’t let major companies fail. (It costs more, visit Detroit). In fact, companies on the brink often are the best innovators, Chrysler positively dazzled in the 80’s post loan guarantees. Once an industry vanishes, it has no chance to redeem itself, and its workers/management must radically retool. Individually. That costs an entire economy.

    eh_political: In the US, small government (big)-capitalists have neutered/gutted/sabotaged the public sector so that it cannot accomplish anything.

    The only people who “neuter” the public sector in this country are those who use it for their own benefit, and I hate to break it to you, but most often those people are public union leadership, urban leftists who squawk about “evil big business” while lining their own pockets, or big-city and Washington, D.C. bureaucrats who view maintaining their own personal fiefdoms as more important than serving the public.

    **Bollocks. The US public service is a shambles at present, and that is by design. There have been open revolts by concerned public servants, many of whom risked/lost/resigned jobs. They all point the finger at the current administration.

    DOJ, FDA, NASA, SEC–all a mess, all far more difficult to repair than they were to trash.

    The folk lining their own pockets at present are the ones who are benefiting from the lack of oversight and enforcement of regulation. In fact the current financial meltdown is a perfect example of what happens with industry self-regulation.

  • avatar
    geeber

    eh_political: Uh, the first example is from 1956.

    Uh, the template laid down by the 1956 act – federal and state governments collecting taxes to fund road building and maintenance, which is carried out by a collaboration of state transportation agencies and private contractors – is still valid today. All of the transportation acts have been supported by several private companies.

    This is why I specifically mentioned that the original act must be renewed periodically by the federal government. The most recent renewal was in 2005, when Congress passed and the President signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

    You originally said that “big government capitalist exist, but not so much in America.”

    Transportation is a huge endeavor in America, given its vast distances. It is supported by plenty of big government capitalists. This proves you incorrect.

    eh_political: The second example is dizzyingly complex, but could also be characterized as a series of black boxes, lacking the sort of transparency that could be held up as a model of efficiency, inefficiency or an example of anything. At present, the military is having a miserable time of it with contract workers and private suppliers. Haliburton, Blackwater et al have not distinguished themselves in Iraq, and I am certain there will be a major review of these relationships going forward.

    Halliburton and Blackwater are not high-tech companies that specialize in developing new technology. They are government contractors, but their existance does not prove that big government capitalists don’t exist in the U.S. (your original contention – remember), or that all U.S. military spending is wasted.

    Defense spending also involves the government spending billions of dollars on high-tech weaponry – planes, drones, firearms, armored vehicles. These are all supplied by private contractors (that rely on government spending for the equipment), and in these areas, the U.S. leads.

    eh_political: **I posted this earlier, have a look: http://www.globeinvestor.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20071112.wragendamorgan12/GIStory/

    That link doesn’t give a complete picture of the depth of the American economy, or the complicated links between American government and business, which was my original point.

    eh_political: Agreed, and my point entirely. Airbus shouldn’t exist, but it does, and it competes with Boeing, created new industries and skill sets in Europe. From time to time it has put the hurt on Boeing, and Europe will ensure that it does not fade. If Boeing bets the farm and stumbles, what happens?

    The American government will not let a major defense contractor like Boeing go out of business. Once again, your example isn’t valid.

    Second, if Airbus is using taxpayer euros to produce turkeys like the A380, it needs to rethink how it spends this money.

    eh_political: Bottom line is that Asian and European countries don’t let major companies fail. (It costs more, visit Detroit).

    AustinRover? Great Britain survived that the collapse of that one just fine.

    And sometimes companies need to fail. Others will pick up what is worthwhile and continue.

    Also note that Fiat was on the ropes, and it survived largely because of a $4 billion cash injection from GM. Hardly proves the value of government intervention to save a company, unless part of the government strategy is to hope that a foreign company is dumb enough to put itself in GM’s position relative to Fiat.

    As for visiting Detroit – that isn’t going to prove the value of bailing out failing companies to save a local economy.

    Detroit’s problems aren’t rooted in the failure of American automobile companies. Not one American company has left the business since Studebaker closed its sole remaining plant, which was located in Canada, in 1966. Studebaker was originally based in South Bend, Indiana, far away from Detroit. South Bend is hardly a desolate wasteland.

    (American Motors was absorbed by Chrysler in 1987, and it wasn’t based in Detroit, but Kenosha, Wisconsin. Again, Kenosha is far away from Detroit.)

    The problems experienced by Detroit, which have been unfolding for decades, began long before the Big Three hit a difficult stretch, and are the result of a corrupt and incompetent city government that exists more to serve itself than its citizens.

    eh_political: In fact, companies on the brink often are the best innovators, Chrysler positively dazzled in the 80’s post loan guarantees.

    Uh, no it had one hit – the minivan – and built lots of uninspiring K-car derivatives that could charitably be described as lackluster, and was in the dumper again by 1991. Aside from the minivan, it was NOT considered an innovator by anyone aside from the Mopar fanboys and Lee Iacocca.

    Chrysler revived itself – WITHOUT government help – in the 1990s with daring design, continued domination of the minivan market and the new Dodge Ram and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

    eh_political: **Bollocks. The US public service is a shambles at present, and that is by design. There have been open revolts by concerned public servants, many of whom risked/lost/resigned jobs. They all point the finger at the current administration.

    DOJ, FDA, NASA, SEC–all a mess, all far more difficult to repair than they were to trash.

    Sorry, but I work in state government. Many of those complaining are career bureaucrats who don’t like a certain style of leadership.

    Plus, I was originally referring to agencies that are not regulatory in nature, but those that provide actual services – SEPTA, city governments, etc. And my observations as to WHY they don’t work are gleaned from actually working with them. Unless you have this level of experience, you are not in the position to refer to my post as “bollocks.”

    Incidentally, I’d suggest that the ineffective handling of the Parmalat scandal, and the recent revelations regarding VW’s union bosses and management, hardly prove the “superiority” of the European approach.

    eh_political: The folk lining their own pockets at present are the ones who are benefiting from the lack of oversight and enforcement of regulation. In fact the current financial meltdown is a perfect example of what happens with industry self-regulation.

    Except that the financial meltdown started with the bursting of the housing bubble, which has also hit Australia, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and, according to a newspaper article I saw this morning, is poised to hit Sweden as well.

    Are their financial industries self-regulating as well?

    If you want to use this as an example of the folly of the U.S. approach to regulation, that is not a good example.

    The meltdown is a necessary correction to lots of bad business practices, which, judging by recent headlines, were not limited to the U.S.

    Incidentally, some of the loosening of the credit terms in the U.S. came about because, in the late 1990s, activists, who are largely from the left side of the ideological spectrum, complained that poor minorities were discriminated against by lenders. Second, in 1997, the regulations covering taxes on capital gains from home sales were loosened by a Republican Congress and (Democratic) President Bill Clinton.

    There is a good reason that lenders discriminated against the poor, regardless of race or nationality – they have less money to pay back the loans. In response to pressure from minority activists, who are anything but laissez-faire libertarians in outlook or action, banks and other lending insitution began lending in poorer neighborhoods. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush began pushing his “ownership society” and the rest is history.

    That doesn’t read like a indictment of a free-wheeling approach to regulation to me. That reads more like government meddling in markets with lots of unintentional results.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    geeber wrote:

    “Except that America’s forests are expanding, the air is cleaner than it has been in decades (and gets cleaner every year as old cars are retired), major progress has been made in cleaning up lakes, streams and rivers (when I was a kid, Lake Erie was off limits to swimmers; now the beaches along the lake are open again), and the topsoil is in fine shape. Hate to rain in your parade with good news, but…”

    What are your sources? The Heritage Foundation? The CATO Institute? Sure, we don’t have rivers catching fire as we did in the 1970s, and, thanks to CAFE and the EPA, there has been major progress on some fronts like air pollution. But, we have less than 1 percent of our ancient Douglas Fir forests remaining in the northwest. Our glaciers have melted, much of our richest farmland has been sold for suburban development; factory pig farms stick for miles. The largest patch of forest in the entire continental United States is Adirondack park, in New York. Animal and plant extinctions are continuing at a breakneck pace. The Mississippi delta estuary is in shambles as is the Colorado River aquifer. We are at the beginning of a terrible water crisis in much of the country that will make the oil crisis pale in comparison.

    And also . . .

    “Since the mid-1970s, road users have borne most of the cost for road construction and maintenance. It is mass transit that has been more heavily subsidized.”

    Last year the Congress decided to not collect $12 billion from the oil industry for drilling on public lands. Many national forests and BLM tracts are dissected by the building of logging roads, many of which are paid for by taxpayers. The spending on roads and airports dwarfs spending on public transportation. Airlines alone got almost 40 billion in tax subsidies since 2002.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    PCH –

    I still disagree with you. To tax new cars enough that people will drive less would take an insane tax. Cars may not be a Giffen good, but they are considered a necessity in the US. The tax on a car purchase will actually just reduce the sales of new cars and other unrelated goods, while increasing the money used to keep older cars on the road longer. The reduction in driving will be very small, and probably smaller than the reduction in other luxury consumption like designer clothes and jewelry. It’s not just fairness, it’s effectiveness. Adding 20k to the cost of a new car would not reduce miles driven by much if any.

    Carlos –

    I so disagree with you I can’t even start. I think you have everyone all mixed up. Could you expound on how small government capitalists are like socialists again? I am the former, and I think the socialists are just like the large government capitalists (only the socialist are well intentioned and misguided, while the large government capitalists are evil and cunning).

    Still, your first statement is the silliest, everyone claims to be for the common good. And, I believe most of them believe it.

    K-Man,

    Correct you are. You really put that well about Friedman.

    Carlos, Eh, Geeber,

    You guys need to give it up. There is a bit of truth in what you all are saying, and none of you are completely wrong. No one’s idealogy is changing here either. When one side says we have more forests, and the other says we have less of a particular tree, you are done. You might as well quit.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Eh

    One more thing. The former CEO of Encana is simply pulling a big Ross Perot.

    If he is such a fortune teller, let’s hear how these evil foreign powers are going to somehow hurt us with all their power over our economies? We all saw the housing crunch coming, and we knew how it would hit, just not how to stop it. This guy can’t even tell us how it will hit.

    Unless and until the evil easterners have a bigger military than we do, the point is all moot. They can’t take all our steel if we don’t let them. And what do they gain by doing it anyway? If any of them ever tried to oppress us with their ownership, they would quickly find that their ownership was no longer valuable. Then they would have what? Wasted all their time building up all that cash only to lose it, that’s what.

    And seriously, most of these people live at our leisure. Most of the entire world has allowed the USA to become so militarily dominant that they actually do exist at our whim. They did this because in spite of all the blowhard rhetoric they either have no choice, or they believe that it’s a good thing to leave us in charge (and who is really trying to change it other than some terrorists?) Most of our “enemies” spend more time oppressing their own than planning to attack us. At best they will use their power to keep us from coming to the rescue of their own people.

    Call us when they start to build a big enough military to really challenge us. Then our time is over. And, we all know how that will hit.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    To tax new cars enough that people will drive less would take an insane tax. Cars may not be a Giffen good, but they are considered a necessity in the US. The tax on a car purchase will actually just reduce the sales of new cars and other unrelated goods, while increasing the money used to keep older cars on the road longer. The reduction in driving will be very small, and probably smaller than the reduction in other luxury consumption like designer clothes and jewelry.

    I believe that you are confusing apples (the US) with oranges (India).

    Cars may be considered to be a necessity in the US, but not in India. Indians don’t yet own them in large numbers. Friedman is suggesting that they not acquire the habit, so that they don’t become a necessity.

    Whether the traffic is comprised of old or new cars will make no difference in the macro if the goal is to reduce traffic congestion. If the public policy objective is to put the brakes on car ownership, that goal can be met by making it costly anywhere and everywhere throughout the purchase and ownership chain.

    High purchase tariffs, registration fees, highway tolls and fuel taxes can all achieve that effect, just so long as the costs are high enough and the tax can be collected, rather than evaded. If cars were heavily taxed at purchase, the old cars would eventually wear out, while fewer new cars would enter the system to replace them, resulting in a slower growth rate or net reduction in ownership.

    Again, the point of debate here is whether that’s a worthwhile goal in the first place. If the goal is keep people from driving, then taxing the hell out of it by whatever means necessary would be the way to accomplish it. If you don’t agree with the goal, then of course, you would oppose the tax.

  • avatar
    carlos.negros

    Landcrusher, what an appropriate name!

    I know this may be hard for you to understand but there is a difference in the number of trees, (timber) and the amount of contigious forest.

    Animals, such as bears, puma, fox and such need forest land. Otherwise they get run over when they cross the road.

    And I love the way small government has solved all our health care problems!

  • avatar
    TFC

    Luther – I agree with your linking of prosperity with controlling birth rates, and by extension reasonable population density, but calling personal transportation “the key” is a short-circuit. More fundamental needs — ready access to food/water/shelter and trade, to convert value-adding labor into those and other needs — are not solely dependent on TaTa’s or donkeys or what have you. Just because virtually unlimited personal transportation has proven successful at improving society’s prosperity in the past doesn’t mean it’s the only, or best, solution in the future.

    Uh, right, cars. So, does that ultra-cheap thing got a hemi?

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Carlos,

    Nice try. Like I said, let’s agree to disagree.

    PCH

    You may be right about taxing the purchase price in India. Since they have so few cars now, it could be effective. As you say, apples and oranges.

    Still, there could easily end up being a gray market of imported used cars. As for the cars wearing out, I have a one word answer – Cuba.

    I can’t see any reason for having a policy against car ownership, only use. Any attempt to limit ownership is either misguided, or 1984 ish.

    I wouldn’t necessarily oppose the goal, if it were to prevent gridlock. However, India is a really big place, and it isn’t all overly stuffed metropolitan area. One really good way to prevent car buying and use is to simply have nowhere for them to drive. If a street is full of pedestrians, close it to cars, and no one on that street will likely buy one. Taxing something people don’t want won’t get you much revenue. OTOH, if there really is a need for cars, why are you trying to prevent their use?

    Seems to me that the goal of the state should be transparent and benevolent. If the people don’t want pollution, then mandate no pollution, not no cars. Leave it to the market to solve the problems, leave it to the state to set the standards. Just because a bunch of pencil heads believe mass transit is the answer, doesn’t mean it is. Usually, they aren’t even asking the right questions. What they want is the most controllable solution, not the best solution.

    If the mass transit system can move x people with cost y, then government should not object to a private solution that does the same. Even if you want to include non economic costs (pollution). Same logic applies.

  • avatar
    geeber

    carlos.negros: What are your sources? The Heritage Foundation? The CATO Institute?”

    The EPA, for starters. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, run by Al Gore alcolyte Katie McGinty (a very nice lady, by the way).

    carlos.negros: Sure, we don’t have rivers catching fire as we did in the 1970s, and, thanks to CAFE and the EPA, there has been major progress on some fronts like air pollution.

    CAFE had nothing to do with reducing air pollution. All vehicles within a regulatory class are limited by law regarding the level of pollutants than can emit.

    A Lincoln Town Car cannot emit any more of the pollutants covered by the Clear Air Act than a Toyota Yaris is permitted to emit.

    Plus, I never said that I was against environmental protection regulations – just dumb ineffective ones.

    Well, I’m also against inaccurate, hysterical doom-mongering.

    carlos.negros: But, we have less than 1 percent of our ancient Douglas Fir forests remaining in the northwest.

    You are talking about one particular tree, and, if you’ll pardon the pun, you can’t see the forest for the Douglas Fir trees.

    carlos.negros: Our glaciers have melted, much of our richest farmland has been sold for suburban development; factory pig farms stick for miles.

    Glaciers have melted and refrozen throughout the agees. There is plenty of farmland left, and we feed more people with fewer inputs than ever before.

    carlos.negros: Last year the Congress decided to not collect $12 billion from the oil industry for drilling on public lands.

    That’s a red herring that has nothing to do with spending for roads versus spending for mass transit. You are talking about royalties paid by companies for the right to drill on federal land, which is an entirely different animal. If the law gives the federal government the right to waive those royalties, it may do so. We can argue about WHETHER that is a good idea, given our federal government’s voracious need for money, but that is a different argument from the one you are making.

    The Highway Trust Fund – which pays the federal portion of road and bridge maintenance and construction – receives revenues from gasoline and diesel-fuel taxes collected from end users (i.e., drivers, trucking companies, etc.) and sales of other vehicular-related equipment.

    carlos.negros: Many national forests and BLM tracts are dissected by the building of logging roads, many of which are paid for by taxpayers.

    Another red herring. That doesn’t mean that mass transit systems users pay for a higher percentage of actual operating costs than those who use roads. That was my original point.

    carlos.negros: The spending on roads and airports dwarfs spending on public transportation.

    Because, in a vast, relatively sparsely poulated country, private vehicles and air travel are going to be the mode of choice for large numbers of people. Those roads must cover vast distances compared to mass transit systems, which cover a relatively small area.

    Paying for the operation and maintenance of SEPTA, for example, isn’t going to help people get around in rural Bedford or Franklin counties.

    carlos.negros: Airlines alone got almost 40 billion in tax subsidies since 2002.”

    Well, yes, because they were seriously hurt by the catastrophic event known as 9/11. That higher level of spending was initially the result of a federal bailout.

    And, like it or not, people will eventually return to air travel for even short distances because it is safe and much quicker than train travel.

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