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The Real Totalitarianism

June 4, 2013

Answering Dorothy Rabinowitz’ hyperbolic screed against the totalitarians seeking to reallocate a small amount of space away from cars and to bicycles, Slate’s Matt Yglesias writes that the “systematic over-allocation of public space in urban areas to cars” is the real “transportation authoritarianism.”

But without even knowing it, he’s answering Josh Greenman as much as he’s answering the Wall Street Journal.  Greenman, you may recall, chastised bicycle advocates for essentially demonizing the car, and used this statement to make his point: “God forbid anyone in power should try to make life easier for those who dominate the roads.”

Here’s Yglesias:

Perhaps the view is that automobile driving is associated with positive social externalities such that at the margin we want to encourage people to drive more and walk less. Or perhaps the view is that the goal of urban policy is not to maxmize the welfare of city dwellers but instead to maximize the wealth of downtown landowners by facilitating suburbanites’ commutes. But there’s no explicit articulation of this view.

Instead, the idea seems to be that since private automobiles are a highly space-inefficient way of transporting people through an urban area, they therefore deserve massive subsidy in the form of additional space-allocation. After all, if private automobiles were made to get by with the same amount of space dedicated to pedestrians, they’d be impractical for many uses. But would that be a bad outcome? Why? And bad for whom?

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