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Honk if You Love the Mass-Produced Automobile

October 4, 2013 in Economics

By Randal O'Toole

Randal O'Toole

Monday, Oct. 7, will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of Henry Ford’s moving assembly line for producing the Model T. This innovative production system allowed Ford to double worker pay while cutting the price of his cars in half, making it possible, for the first time, for auto workers to buy the cars they built.

Time magazine lists the Model T among its “50 worst cars of all time” because “the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels” were (supposedly) so negative. The Obama administration seems to agree with that bleak summation. Its recent strategic plan for the Department of Transportation focuses exclusively on such negative consequences, which allegedly include the high dollar cost of driving, poorly designed cities, greenhouse gases and obesity. The “Livable Communities” section of the plan, for instance, says that Americans drive too much because cities are designed to make us “auto dependent,” and the plan’s goal is to rebuild cities to induce people to drive less.

Instead of trying to reduce driving, we should encourage it while continuing to make it safer, cleaner and more energy efficient.”

In fact, many of the supposed negative costs of cars are purely imaginary, while others are rapidly declining. Each year’s crop of new cars is safer, more fuel-efficient and less polluting than before. Department of Energy data show that in 1970 cars used twice as much energy per passenger mile as did mass transit. Today, they are practically tied, and in a few years driving will use less energy and emit less pollution than public transit.

For more than 60 years, Americans have consistently spent around 9% of their personal incomes on driving, even though per-capita miles have tripled since 1950. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics—counting both user costs and subsidies—public transportation costs nearly four times as much per passenger mile as driving, while Amtrak costs well over twice as much.

The costs of driving are overwhelmed by the benefits of mass-produced automobiles, benefits largely ignored by the Obama administration and various anti-auto groups. Ford democratized mobility: Today, 91% of American households have at least one car, and 96% of commuters live in a household with at least one car. Curiously, Census Bureau statistics indicate that more than 20% of commuters who live in car less households still get to work by driving alone (apparently in borrowed cars).

By tripling urban travel speeds, autos gave workers access to better jobs and employers access to a wider pool of workers, contributing to …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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