Is the saying still true, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”?
Now that the car companies are asking for us to bail them out, like we did the Wall Street high rollers, it could be a good opportunity to retool our transportation system.
In the 1950s president Eisenhower made a momentous decision. In the name of national security, he used the power of imminent domain to nationalize thousands of miles of farm land and build the Interstate Highway system. The national security interest was the transportation of troops.
This experiment in socialized transportation was a huge success. It turned out to be a great subsidy to the automobile industry. The auto companies thrived, suburbs sprouted, boosting the construction industry–and the middle class emerged realizing the American dream for a whole generation. These programs of governments subsidies and centralized planning produced a level of prosperity no one could have imagined. There was only one problem. It relied on an unlimited supply of cheap petroleum–and fifty years ago, who could have imagined that the supply of fossil fuel was limited?
Our dependence on automobiles–and therefore on oil from unstable countries–has produced a national security nightmare.
Don’t let the temporary cheap gas prices fool you. As soon as the world economy begins to recover, oil will resume its ascent to $200.00 per barrel. The reason is simple. There are ten times as many people in China and India as there are in the US; and they all want to drive cars like we do. And who can blame them? The problem is, that there is not enough oil in the world to supply them and us.
We could use this opportunity to retool the factories in Detroit, Ohio, Kansas City, and other places to produce mass transportation: high speed train cars, clean bio-diesel hybrid buses, trolley cars, bicycle lanes. We could improve our health, simplify our lives, clean up our air, and revitalize our economies.
Or we could try to save the automobile–the dinosaur of our age.