December 12, 2008
People keep asking me what I think about bailing out the U.S. car makers. I am unqualified to have an opinion on the economics of that question, and the experts seem divided. In situations such as this, where the experts disagree on the best path, I say use the limited supply of money someplace where the experts DO agree that it would help the economy, if there is such a place. I’m not claiming that withholding aid from the car makers would be the best solution. It’s just the most rational decision when the best path can’t be known.
And this got me thinking about why we have so many cars in the first place. Excess cars cause traffic, pollution, and dependence on foreign sources of oil. And who benefits most by this situation? Answer: car makers.
Suppose the government enacted laws that made it legal for anyone to be a taxi driver in his own car without a special taxi license. And suppose the income was non-taxable. The result would be cheap taxis and high availability. Every time you wanted to run an errand, and had an extra minute, you could choose to pick up a rider and cut your own driving expense in half. Technology will make it easy to match amateur taxi drivers with riders. And the market would keep prices low.
Now obviously there are lots of problems with this scheme, in terms of security, liability, and people puking in the back of your Hyundai. But compare that to our current problems: car expenses, traffic, pollution, global warming, and excess energy use. I think the universal taxi scheme comes out ahead.
None of this could happen while U.S. automakers are still in business. They would lobby to make sure the market for new cars stayed strong. And obviously the professional taxi drivers wouldn’t like it. So they would lobby against it.
This sort of thought has been going through my mind lately because I think the current recession isn’t going to be temporary. I think we’re on the verge of a change as profound as the Industrial Revolution. Society will have to retool its expectations to meet the reality that there just won’t be enough money to provide necessary services if we insist on consuming in an inefficient way.
The universal taxi theory won’t happen because farsighted politicians changed laws. It will happen because people start doing it on their own in such numbers it will be impossible to prosecute, especially given the dwindling law enforcement budgets.
Likewise, the future includes legalized (de facto or literally) drugs and prostitution, out of budget necessity. There simply won’t be enough tax money to chase that sort of perp. And say goodbye to speed limits in all but the most dangerous roads.