Question of the Day: Do Cars Still Represent Freedom?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
question of the day do cars still represent freedom

Most Americans take their freedoms for granted. Thank God and our soldiers they can. But there is at least one generally recognized icon of our citizens' liberty: the automobile. Ever since the Model T, the fact that car ownership was within reach of the "common man" has been a point of national pride. A big, fancy car/pickup/SUV is still seen as a potent symbol of success. Europeans have long derided America's "love affair" with the automobile as a selfish extravagance. With global warming joining terrorism (and replacing nuclear war) as America's insidious unseen enemy, with gas over $4 a gallon, the average U.S. citizen may be more inclined to agree now than at any time in the last 100 years. Or are they? Has the recent pain at the pump really taken the bloom off the four-wheeled rose? Does the fact that fewer teens are getting their license indicate financial/legal necessity or the iCarly non-future of passionate personal transportation? Personally, I think we're simply exchanging one automotive lover for another. You?

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  • Gleetroit Gleetroit on Jul 06, 2008

    Cars do more than represent freedom. They are freedom. More specifically, affordable, personal long-range transportation is freedom. More specifically, cheap energy is freedom. Yes, the ability to take two-week long roadtrips and see the splendor of even just a tiny part of our nation at ones individual whim is one of the great privelages Americans have over almost every other westernized country. I would even say it is an idea which has been ingrained in the sodbusting history of America for the past 400 years. This idea of human osmosis (especially as it relates to our quality of life) is truely where the history of our country, personal mobility and freedom all come together. We talk about our right to vote. What about our right to vote with our feet? If I don't like something about where I live or the leadership of my state or local government, I can pick up my family and belongings and move relatively cheaply to someplace that I think has better opportunities using a car and some gasoline. This same concept held true 150 years ago only substitute a horse, some oats and a covered wagon (again, cheap energy by the standards of the day). Maybe I only need to move out of the city to the suburbs or to the country if I feel like my tax dollars would be better spent there or if the schools are better for my kids, etc. etc. I'll just make a longer commute to work. This all becomes harder as the cost of the commute rises. That's when my opportunities become more limited, and I'm more likely to stay put even though it may mean supporting a system I don't care for. It all comes down to a directly proportional ratio between range and opportunity. I find it a bit nefarious that in a country as large and diverse (socially and geologically) as the U.S. our politicians would have us believe that a European transportation/energy model would be the way of the future (unless we're talking nuclear). The reason the U.S. is such a production powerhouse is because we are NOT based strictly on a high-tax, heavily socialized urban model. We are the breadbasket of the world, we have vast untapped natural resources, and we have a relatively low- cost energy model. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, we are blessed to have it. We are the only western nation that can still compete with China on a GDP basis (I don't know for how much longer) and have a standard of living in line with the modern western world. While everyone considers it such a crime as to how much energy the U.S. uses as compared to other nations, nobody bothers to actually look at our GDP in relationship to those numbers. This metric is called Energy Intesity and effectively measures a nation's energy efficiency by looking at the amount of energy it takes to earn $1 of GDP. Even with our vastly greater travel distances, the U.S. is still the fourth most efficient behind only Norway, Iran and the Neatherlands. While I agree that our 22% contribution to global production doesn't quite line up with our 25% usage of global energy, I would probably attribute that 3% discrepancy to our high standards of living as compared to other top producing nations. I'm not just talking about material wealth here, but the fact that we don't have to live in congested cities (i.e. Japan) if we want a sucessful career. Individuals here can still actually own acreage cheaply, and still afford to drive into cities and towns to work. This allows many people of lesser means to take advantage of the cost of living differential between urban and rural locations and is a real growth driver in most successful economic regions. That's the kind of economic growth that can really change a person's station in life. Unfortunately this mechanism for growth will cease to function if people aren't able to afford the commute. That, to me, is a pretty direct affect on individual freedom.

  • FromBrazil FromBrazil on Jul 06, 2008

    @ Folkdancer Somebody took a swipe in general at Prius owners and I think you took personally. You shouldn't. Me for example, would love to buy a Prius but can't since holier-than-thou Toyota seems to think Brazil is some faraway demented place (even though they opened their first oveseas operation here, di you all know that?) that oesn't get or want some newfangdangled complicated technology. But maybe they are right. I for example defend every person's right to call out the Prius for being so over expensive hat regular ICE models make more sense. You just need to calculate everything. When their price drops down, I'm all for them, but now, their extra price, heavy metal carrying batteries and probably more environmentally damaging construction, well, it just doesn't float my boat.

  • FromBrazil FromBrazil on Jul 06, 2008

    Way to go Gleetroit! Absolutely agree w / you. Yeas cars are Freedom. In the 3rd world. To many or all of so called 3r world denizens. To 1st world citizens this is changing. The 1st world has been lost. It's a anti car wasteland right now. Why oh why? Just when we (3rd world) get close to emulating you (1st world), you say it's wrong. Call me a sucker if I beleive you...and most of my fellow deizens are buying the new greenie "facts". As regards kids, yes their dislike of cars is a way to stick it to the older generation that has destroyed the earth and killed the polar bear. Hence Detroit's new and Jeeez so old (1973?) dilemma. Get a small car already. Ooozing technology. Economic. Full of crazy multi setting internal functions (yes, lights and all. Kids love and are used to their computer making a noise at each keystroke, MAKE THE CAR THE SAME). If you don't appeal to the kids, you will continue yur downward slide. And the kids have all bought the pc of the last decades, so... Adapt!!!

  • Joe_thousandaire Joe_thousandaire on Jul 06, 2008

    folkdancer - I didn't say I was angry, I do get angry with allot of people on the road, Prius drivers usually aren't among them. I was more referring to the politicizing of the automobile (new CAFE standards, CO2 paranoia ect.), that may limit my freedom to choose what car I drive. The left-wing elitist I was talking about were the Euro types R.F. mentioned in his article, those who would sit around and discuss what the American "People's car" should be, some utilitarian device that goes from point A to point B, and not a symbol of freedom and independence.