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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Cost of Our Cars: Are Private Autos the Nation's Major Welfare Recipients?

Those who are not living at the bottom of a well may have noticed that oil is now quickly approaching $150 a barrel, and some prognosticators and oil geologists are predicting $200 per barrel by next year. Events are moving more quickly than even I expected, for even I had not expected the $100 threshold to be breached before next year, earliest.

The galloping fuel prices are deeply frightening in their implications and their effect on every cost of day to day life, as anyone shopping for a family of three or four can attest.

Yet, while there has been some 'demand destruction', Americans have not begun to alter their habits, and, most ominous of all, our political and business leaders haven't altered our disastrous public policies that are so slanted toward the support and promotion of private automobiles, to the funding of the public transit and intercontinental railways we will desperately need when 70% or more of our population will no longer be able to afford to run an auto, and will be hard put to it just to keep the house tolerably warm and put food on the table, as the costs of food and utilities are driven remorselessly northward by the escalation of fuel prices.

So, this is a good time to consider just what our cars are costing the public. The linked essay puts to rest whatever notions some people out here have considering the cost of transit to the public, and who is really subsidizing what.

The bald truth of the matter is that if all the costs of procuring and securing our oil supplies, and the costs of maintaining our massive network of roads and highways to the standard required by heavy auto use were passed directly to the user, gasoline would have cost $9 a gallon by 2005. The fact is that car ownership is much more extensively subsidized than public transit, and airlines are subsidized at the expense of over-regulated and over-taxed railroads.

As a libertarian, I believe that if the citizens were, jointly and severally, to make their choices regarding their modes of transportation strictly on economics, and if these choices were not massively subsidized for the past 80 years, that most people would have given up car ownership as impractical and unaffordable even before the interstate highway system was built in order to wreck our cities and decant our populations into auto suburbs.

Public transit would prosper on its own were we not forced to subsidize it's competition as we have been doing for the past 85 years. Let's pull the massive subsidies from private autos, and bureaucratic, government-controlled, inefficient public transit, and see who wins.

My bet is, that within seven years, we would have profitable, efficient public transit, owned wholly by private entities, available to the rapidly growing population of dispossessed former car owners, and that we would be able to reduce our energy consumption by at least 40%.