Save The Auto Industry? Nope, Let Them "Die"

Instead of bailing out the auto industry, can we please just let GM, Fordand Chrysler die? Billionaire Wilbur Ross, who has some substantial investments in the auto industry, is calling for Obama to bail out GM and Chrysler and the mood in Washington seems to be that we should rescue these companies.

I admit we probably should, just to avert seeing double-digit unemployment and causing a second great depression, but I wish instead of spending billions rescuing the automakers, our government would instead invest that money in public transportation. It'll take some time to bear fruit, but I'd really like it if, when those of us who are in our twenties right now grow up and have kids, we have access to more and better mass transit, and are less reliant on cars. For that to happen, we need to start investing in the infrastructure now.

I know my generation, the bicycle generation, understands this. Our new Vice President Elect, Joe Biden, who rides the train home from the Senate to Delaware every workday and whose son serves on the Amtrak board gets it. I hope Obama and the Democratic Congress do too.

If we let the auto-makers live, can we at least question our reliance on them, given the perennial problems of the automobile industry and the fact that cars are practically weapons of mass destruction, killing 37,248 people in this country last year? We're talking about vehicles that weigh about a ton and can travel at speeds upwards of a hundred miles per hour? And we give them to 16 year olds? Frankly, I'd feel safer just giving every teenager in this country an AK-47.

Last week The New York Times ran a feature about lowering the drinking age and accidents caused by drunk driving. I've always been a proponent of lowering the drinking age, but how come no one ever suggests raising the driving age?

I get that if you're a kid growing up in the suburbs, like I was, you have no social life without a car. In fact, pretty much anyone living in suburbia is stranded without a car. But that's not because suburbia is inherently automobile dependent, it's at least in part because of public policy. We spend billions on highways, we already bailed out Chrysler once, and meanwhile Amtrak is constantly struggling to get funding. We need to stop fretting about deaths caused by drunk driving and realize that in addition to being worse for the environment than mass transit, having everyone driving around in cars is dangerous period, drunk or sober.

Every time this argument comes up, you get people citing European countries, where the drinking age is lower or effectively non- existent, and there are fewer deaths from drunk driving per capita. I don't think that's because Europeans learn how to drink responsibly at a young age. It's because unlike the United States, most European countries have great public transportation systems with high speed rail, light rail, good buses. I know a lot of people who fear taking buses in New York City even though our crime rate has fallen off a cliff over the last fifteen years. If you get drunk in Europe, you don't drive home because you have other options.

Remember, what's good for GM is not necessarily good for America.

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