Transportation Meltdown

December 11, 2008


It is now the automakers' turn to come, hat in hand, to the Federal government. On the heels of their lobbyists, the CEO's have made the pilgrimage twice, like wealthy muslims for the Hajj. And it looks like we're going to give them about the same amount of money we gave to Britain through Lend-Lease in World War II.

The spectacle of the elite of capitalism coming to beg for socialism at the public trough has been a theme of the lame duck portion of the Bush II administration. Banks, insurance companies, and now automakers flocked to Washington with tales of woe. People call it the "New Capitalism" in which the profits are privatized and the costs are paid by the public.

Excuse me a minute, but isn't making good, competitive automobiles precisely what the big three auto makers have proven they are positively incapable of doing? Why will giving them more of our money change this? You might as well give a bushel of hay to a Moose and expect to get eggs.

How about a different plan.

Throughout the 1920s, 30s, and 40s General Motors had an innovative program of buying and closing companies that offered mass transit alternatives to the automobile. Their rationale was very straightforward: how can we convince everyone to buy a car when there is a cheap, efficient and satisfactory alternative to the car? So, they bought them up, scrapped them. And people bought cars. They had no other choice.

The automakers, especially GM, have a large stake in trains. GM makes most of the diesel-electric locomotives used in North America. Why not pay them to rebuild the intercity and commuter rail corridors they intentionally scrapped 60-70 years ago? Set up a real intercity transit system, like we're a real first world industrialized country. Implement commuter light rail all over the country. It would be a boon to local economies, would be substantially green, and would be something upon which other sustainable infrastructure could be built.

In twenty-five years, we could have a vastly improved network of really good, fast, cheap transportation that would be the rival of any nation on earth - a real point of national pride. GM, Ford and Chrysler, instead of making legions of crappy automobiles that are inferior to what is made elsewhere, uses up the earth's resources at a horrendous rate, and is fundamentally unsustainable, could instead retool for making light and inter-city trains, stations, roadbeds, machinery, and control systems. Who knows, maybe with the right leadership they might even be good at it. They could certainly make something more useful and efficient than ton upon ton of crappy disposable cars.

This plan has the advantage of being able to reinvigorate local economies all over the nation, not just in the midwest or southeast. For the cost of a small war, which is what the auto companies are asking us to give them anyway, we could have vastly improved public transportation relatively quickly. Tens of thousands of auto workers would not lose their jobs. In fact. hundreds of thousands of new workers would be needed to make, implement, and maintain this new national transportation grid.

Following this plan would:

There is no reason why an industry can't change what it does and do well. We need to look at the big picture. We need to lake the long view. What this country needs for its $15-30+ billion dollar investment is not more crappy over-priced cars nobody wants to buy. If we made the same investment and had the big three auto companies make us a new national mass transit system (people and freight) then we would have something that would benefit this country materially, financially, spiritually, and environmentally. Let's get the big three to give us back what they stole from our grandparents. It only seems fair.

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