The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 September 2005

In praise of private wheels

I have no doubt that somewhere, some greener-than-thou type is watching the price of gasoline rise to $3.50, $4, $5, God knows where, and doing a Marv Albertesque "Yes! Now maybe those people will give up their damn cars and ride the bus like they should."

Not a chance, Snowflake:

I'd say people who believe that the automobile is a good thing are feeling pretty justified right now. People in New Orleans who owned cars mostly got themselves safely out of town before the storm (unless they chose to stick around). People who didn't, and were dependent upon on mass transit, wound up drowning, getting herded into the Superdome or the Convention Center or are still otherwise in harm's way, facing possible starvation as well as predation by looters and thugs. Many of them had little choice, of course — they were poor people living in a big city. But obviously, they did not wind up better off for not owning a car.

The lesson here is that anybody who can afford a car is crazy not to have one, the dreams of bicycle-riding environmentalists and central planners the world over to the contrary. In addition to its other virtues, a car can get you out of harm's way without having to depend on the government in a time of crisis.

Also note that suicide bombers regularly target trains (London, Madrid, Tokyo), buses (London, Israel) and planes (9/11, the shoe bomber) — but rarely if ever go after motorists, who remain more dispersed and therefore less vulnerable except when passing bridges and tunnels.

There remain those who resent the automobile, which puts the individual citizen literally in the driver's seat. But sometimes, the ability to get yourself out of town without waiting for the government to get you there makes all the difference.

And there remain those who are anxious to point out that poor people don't have all these options. This is, of course, one of many reasons why it sucks to be poor, and if you have any ambition and any sense, you'll reorient your life so at some point you become not poor. (Waiting around for the government to do things for you, incidentally, is neither ambitious nor sensible.)

Posted at 10:23 AM to Driver's Seat

TrackBack: 12:07 PM, 4 September 2005
» Why Cars Are Good For You from Tinkerty Tonk
Forget rising gas prices, the automobile culture in the U.S. lives on, bolstered by the predicament of the car-less after Katrina struck New Orleans. I'd say people who believe that the automobile is a good thing are feeling pretty justified right now....[read more]

TrackBack: 12:29 AM, 7 September 2005
» Katrina gleanings from BatesLine
Keeping up with the latest commentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Mister Snitch! has several more informative links today, including one to a "fingerpointing-free timeline of the Katrina response" by Rick Moran. Moran lists what actions were......[read more]

No "Saturday Spottings"? Is this your own private way of conserving gas maybe?

Posted by: ms7168 at 10:25 AM on 4 September 2005

Well, the main thing I did yesterday, Spotting-wise, was to observe diesel prices and to make sure I remembered the current layout of Deep Deuce correctly; these turned up in two different posts.

I drove about 12 miles for this jaunt, which at $3.10 a gallon cost me a little over a buck and a half. (Actually, I'm still running on $2.75 gas, but it will presumably cost me $3.10 to replace it.) Low for a Saturday — not including a run to the supermarket, which is about seven miles round-trip — but not remarkably so.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:40 AM on 4 September 2005

I'm increasingly fascinated by this assertion that so many poor people want to be poor. Please provide more data.

Posted by: Matt at 5:41 PM on 4 September 2005

It's only fascinating, Matt, because you've glued yourself into the mindset that people can't move out of their class, despite the existence of plenty of people who have done so.

But you go right ahead and "care," as is your apparent wont, and see how much good it does anyone who actually lives under the purely-arbitrary "poverty" line. All I see from forty years of caring is an underclass that doesn't seem to shrink and a batch of bureaucrats who keep pouring money down the drain.

You really want to do something about low wage scales? Demand an end to illegal immigration. And spare me that crap about "Americans won't do these jobs"; jobs get done in all manner of American places where there aren't any substantial number of illegals.

But no, it's not going to happen, because you're the Voice of the Downtrodden, and you can't even hear them telling you to move your fucking boots.

Posted by: CGHill at 6:37 PM on 4 September 2005

I can concur that being dependent upon public transportation during times of disaster sucks. After each hurricane that hit my area last year they had to shut the bus system down for at least a day. Fortunately I didn't have to evacuate, and Orlando didn't flood, and I'm in good health.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 6:47 PM on 4 September 2005

CG, you are conflating what I am saying with, well, things I am not saying. Let's get specific.

Please find me someplace where I said, or even implied, that "people can't move out of their class." This is clearly false, and I would rage against any society where it were true. (Heck, I rage against parts of our society that make it harder than it should be, much less impossible.)

What I said, and what I continue to say, is that the vast, vast, vast majority of the people stranded in New Orleans are poor. Not that they always will be poor (if they survived), but that they are. The desire to not be poor does not translate into instant wealth, any more than the desire to be thinner translates into instant health.

I imagine the people who could afford cars and gas and got out of New Orleans do feel pretty good about those decisions right now. I also maintain that those who did not have a car, or the means to operate it, did not deserve to die, Some of them clearly did die for no other reason than that they couldn't get out of the way.

I want to do something about low wages, but I believe in evidence. Any "demand to end illegal immigration," from me or anyone else, will be about as effective as a demand to end illegal drug usage. How's that war on drugs been working out lately? Find the evidence - one piece of evidence - that you can reduce demand by reducing supply, in any market, and you've found your way to lasting wealth.

And, despite your assertions, CG, I speak for no one but myself, and I don't feel particularly downtrodden at the moment. I just want to know what all these people in New Orleans who are poor were supposed to do, if this is all their fault for being there.

We agree that people pull themselves out of poverty every day, and that they must find their own motivation to do so. I can't help but wonder how many people were on the path out of poverty when their lives ended this week because they didn't yet have a car.

I know this thread is not saying that our policy should be "you must own a car or we don't care if a natural disaster kills you," but it's flirting with that thought.

Posted by: Matt at 8:17 PM on 4 September 2005

Two things (and by the way, I didn't mean to call you a syphilitic ass-clamp or anything, but I am so farging weary of the same old talking points):

1) There's only one real difference between the attempt to interdict border crossings and the attempt to interdict drugs: the immigrants wind up costing less (and therefore earning less), while the price of the drugs goes up. If we're in need of these "guest workers" (and this is one area where the Bush administration has been consistent, as in "consistently clueless"), we should be making arrangements to bring them here legally and the INS should conduct itself accordingly. (As for the War On [Some] Drugs, it's fairly worthless by any standards.)

2) The local authorities in New Orleans, once they gave the evacuation orders (which should have been earlier, but that's a different issue) should have had every motor vehicle in the pool, bus down to sedan, ready to move people out. They shouldn't have had to wait for orders from above. The Mayor said at one point he was expecting only 60-percent compliance with the evacuation; he got close to 80, which should have made this task easier for him.

And hardassed as it may sound, we can't save everybody. Did we do everything we could? Not really. Balls were dropped from Poydras Street all the way to D.C. But I continue to believe that some unspecified number of persons contributed to their own demise by their actions and/or inactions. Commentators are reacting with horror at the thought of a "five-digit" casualty figure; I'm crazed enough to think that if ten thousand people perished, that means that four hundred sixty thousand didn't. And much as it pains me to say so, I know rather more than I'd like to about self-destructive behavior, and I have the diagnoses to prove it.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:51 PM on 4 September 2005

Well, at least we're getting on the same page. Finally. Thank you for not making me sadder. :-)

I don't know that the price of illegal immigration goes down, if that's the correct reading, but the people who "use" the immigrants don't seem to pay more for it. I don't doubt some profit from the smuggling trade, tho.

And yeah, I'm with you on the evacuation, too. I really want to know why that didn't happen. I have suspicions (the sherriff who was on TV today saying that they've been trying to manage on their own for days but then FEMA came in and ordered their communications cut, so they reestablished it and protected it with armed guards, that comes to mind), but I prefer evidence.

If it was just a failure of the city government's imagination - not figuring out to do it, or where to send people, or how to get them all on the buses - then it needs to be fixed. If the city had been told not to do it for some reason, we need to know by whom, and for what reason.

Does any city have a reasonable evacuation plan for people who don't have cars? I keep thinking of those old "duck and cover in case of nuclear war" films - driving out of town wouldn't really prevent against The Bomb, so I have this feeling a lot of cities gave up on "evacuation." Maybe it's time to reconsider that, and it should be local.

After all, ain't no one knows how to get out of town faster than the city council.

Posted by: Matt at 9:37 PM on 4 September 2005

BTW, lots of people are discussing this topic here and here.

Posted by: Matt at 1:26 AM on 5 September 2005

I suspect a lot of it is due to the fact that the weather is incredibly changeable in the Central time zone, and nobody wants to be the one who orders an evacuation that turns out to have been unnecessary.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:41 AM on 5 September 2005

I don't suppose it's worth noting the likelihood that a ten-fold increase in the number of cars that were trying to use a limited number of roads to get the hell out of Dodge -- especially given how long it took local authorities to figure out, "Duh, maybe we should open the inbound lanes to outbound traffic" -- might have resulted in even fewer people getting out? Probably not.

Posted by: Phil at 7:34 AM on 6 September 2005

One nice thing about living on this drab, boring grid: every mile there's some sort of road that eventually leads out of town.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:41 AM on 6 September 2005