from 19 feb 2006
blue vol V, #1
Opinion Archive

Eliminate Private Cars:
New Democracy & Sustainable Economic Systems

by Jase Martinique for Revolutionary Green

Bolivia has about 25 cars per 1000 people. Many of them are older models and they are owned almost exclusively by the 10 percent of the population that is wealthy. The USA has 900 cars per 1000 - and that is not counting all of the trucks and government vehicles. If China were to reach half the level of car ownership in the USA, China would need to build or buy more than 600 million cars - more than twice the number in the USA today! But, before the Chinese or the Indians could enjoy driving them very far, the world's climate would change terribly... and irreversibly!

Part I. Capitalists are diabolically clever.

They learn and invent. They have recently combined an older technology, motorized vehicles, with a newer social technology, mass private vehicle ownership. Now they export this nation-building model across the planet - especially to China.

There can be questions of the "Chicken and Egg" variety in economic or ecological analysis, but it is clear that the largest factor in development and in the ecological crisis of the earth is the same thing: cars - especially the widespread ownership of private vehicles. Mass transit as it is used in most countries is a false solution. The horrors of the automobile and its culture are well studied: a million killed outright and many millions injured, crippled or terrorized each year - and these are just the immediate human casualties! (1). The opportunity costs of allowing private vehicle ownership are fatal to any experiment in sustainability.

Trucks have a role in Basic Goods transport and busses or trains are important for long distance trade and travel, but private cars? Cars, roads and all of the parts and inputs required to maintain and repair them are too great a burden for any country to bear - that is, any country that wants to consume its fair share and learn to live sustainability. For the poor countries that lack energy resources, the costs of cars and energy imports often requires a large part of their export earnings to pay for them. The benefits accrue to the rich. (2.)

This study examines arguments against private cars and mass transit; data on per capita car ownership and costs around the world; and the policies for a revolutionary society of equitable and sustainable development. By awakening people to the severity of change necessary - the fact that they do not even understand how to move about without their own personal car - we can move on to serious subjects: how sensible people must take over the world in the next 5 years or prepare for climate catastrophes and war. These issues are important to the revolutionary movements that are growing in Bolivia, Venezuela, Iraq and Nepal (In Iraq and Venezuela gasolina sells for 12 cents a gallon). Grassroots social movements want more than the politicians will deliver. The missing link between the potential of the poor masses and real change is an economic program that challenges the mentality and design of local or global capitalists. This study highlights the key proposals for a new program of Sustainable Economics and Real Democracy. (3.)

Part II. "Private Cars Are for Fascists: Mass Transit for Fools!"

We are killing the future and the future choices that the people might have chosen if we refuse to discuss the alternatives to car ownership. Can anyone explain how a country with private car ownership could ever become sustainable? Can anyone explain how car ownership could expand significantly in Bolivia or Nepal without causing major economic problems?

The motor industry is a key indicator of the world economy. The nexus of related industries which depend for their continued expansion on the car point to its crucial position. The massive growth of cars has required a massive growth of roads. In Britain and the USA the underdevelopment of the railways means that the roads are the essential artery for the creation of virtually all commodities and the realization of their value in the market place. Given all this, how can cars and roads be neutral? They are forms of technology, and no technology is developed outside the class war. They represent a particular definition of progress; and all definitions depend on who has the power to decide what is good and what is needed.

Cars and the evils of middle classes must be addressed by any person, group or ideology that claims to be anti-fascist. Prisons, cell phones, private property, trade, corporations and single issue campaigns must also be addressed. Unless you think that everyone on the planet can have a car of their own then you must be against all private vehicles OR you are a fascist because you allow/enforce a system where some get things and others are excluded (know their roles). Unless you think that everyone on the planet has the right to be middle class consumers pursuing the American Dream then either you are against anyone being in the middle (or upper) class OR else you are a fascist because you allow/enforce a system where some get things and others are excluded (know their roles).

There could be 3 times as many people living in the USA and if they had no cars, no palaces, and less mental disease - it would be such a wonderful place of hope and humanness - instead of a psychedelic graveyard of failure. Few cars would mean less pollution, less expenses, and an end to war. Eventually, there might be cities that breathed and celebrated and shared - cities that loved and honored the rural areas that provide their food, water, building materials, energy and vacations.

If activities were less geographically dispersed they might be forced to become smaller in scale. People would be brought into daily contact with one another. Streets would not be deserted, so street crime would become virtually impossible, making trust between diverse individuals and communities a realistic goal rather than empty liberal rhetoric. All of which would make feasible the idea of municipal democracy, the idea of small local areas being directly governed by their inhabitants. Workers councils in a factory would not bring workers control over production, if the factory just made components to be assembled elsewhere into an unknown machine. Similarly, in the cities of today municipal democracy would not give people control over the conditions of their lives, when they are assembled elsewhere. The supersedence of transport would, at least, create a possibility of democracy.

Reform cannot challenge the political power of the Road as an institution, nor the power of Capital which it serves. Restrictions on the car only serve to reinforce and legitimate the machinery of motor power, rather like the way that abuse-spotting social workers can only legitimate the everyday barbarism of the Family, by picking out its most "dysfunctional" exemplars. We no more recognize the distinction between "green" cars and others, between "green" petrol and its rival products, than the macho distinction of performance between "good" and bad driving. We hate cars because we are sick of seeing our world around us torn apart, a world where we have no control over anything we do. We are sick of watching ourselves do the necessary. We could be participating in the enjoyable.

There is a growing movement against the car... then there is China. If we despise this system so much, if we hate everything that is part of it, if we despise single issue campaigns and favor only an assault on all fronts, then why pick on the car? Is it that the car is a symbol? Well symbol it definitely is but it is also a physical reality. Its ceaseless traffic in traffic is what stops us enjoying life. And maybe even what stops us communicating with you. That's why we want to smash your windscreen ; we want to break through to you and tell you that there's a world out here. We want to reach out to you and prise your hands from the sweaty steering wheel and gently lift you out of the car. Before we pour petrol on the seat and set light to the ugly thing. ( (4.)

Part III. Mass Transit is Foolish - But Necessary for the Transition to Sustainability

Many of the successful mass transit programs in Latin America (Curritiba, Bogota, Quito) were designed primarily for the wealthy who own most of the cars. The goal was to reduce air pollution and congestion. Many transit programs were disasters, costing exorbitant amounts and serving few people. It's nice for the rich though, they keep their cars and get to feel good and ride to the bank office quicker. And they probably got rich off of building the transit systems too! Mass transit compliments cars - get rid of the cars and you won't need much transit since it will be easier to walk, bike or take a taxi once in a while. The real solution is to redesign cities so that jobs are closer to where people live - and to get people out of the cities! The redesigning of cities is easy and cheap. Seize the property of the rich and most of the middle class and relocate light industries into all areas. (5.)

Part IV. Global Car Ownership; Let Them Eat Dust!

In most of the world only the middle class and the rich own cars. In the USA and much of Europe there are more cars than licensed drivers (as many as 900 cars per 1000 people). In Bolivia there are less than 30 cars per 1000 people and almost all of them are owned by the rich. Get rid of the private car? Who could complain except the rich? (6.)

Even by 2005, vehicle ownership was low in Latin America. Half of the countries report motorisation levels of under 100, i.e. less than 10 per cent of the population have access to a motor vehicle. Brazil has the highest motorisation level of the larger countries and has 8 times more vehicles per capita than does Venezuela. In Peru during 1995, 45% of road fatalities were pedestrians - about twice the average of other countries in the region. More than 200,000 people in Latin America are killed or severely injured each year by cars. (7.)

Part V. Automobile Cost Data:

Autos have many impacts on every aspect of life. They affect people's health, environment, the imports, infrastructure, and research priorities of the country. The economic losses to injuries, wasted labor in the auto sector, repairs, pollution and the creation of consumer fantasies are staggering. (8.) If all of the waste related to private cars were put into agriculture and basic goods (health, education, water supplies...) then many countries could become pleasant and sustainable examples. To follow the individualist and consumerist approach that China and Mexico are following is to court local and global disaster.

An option for Bolivia (and for Paraguay and the parts of Peru and Brazil that are near Bolivia) is to outlaw private vehicles and then convert taxis, buses and collectivos to natural gas (NVGs). NGVs have gained worldwide recognition as one of the best alternative fuel options. For all practical purposes it is a "compulsory" fuel for Bolivia, given the abundance of the country's gas reserves, and because of the positive impact that NGVs would have on the income and general quality of life of the country's inhabitants. With achievable goals, the study by Fernando Navarro of Transredes S.A., evaluates the economic benefits that NGVs offers Bolivia. (9.)

Instead of investing in NGV conversions (or an entire new regional industry based on NGVs), biodiesel (Palm Oil?) or an improved Bolivian refinery, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has offered to trade 150,000 barrels of diesel a week for a large portion of Bolivia's food exports. (10.) Even if priced at $10 per barrel delivered, this would equal 6 million dollars each month of Bolivia's food.

Part VI. Conclusion: Cars Are Toxic to New Democracy and Sustainability

Cars kill everything: animals, people, pedestrian enjoyment/security, biking, forests, and eventually the planet. Worst of all is that cars are the scouts of the capitalists and the engineers of Yankee Imperialism. The people in the USA are hopelessly brainwashed by their own hype - plugged into their I-Pods and pulled along on a Fantasy Island Tour of car washes and drive-in fast food. So called radical leaders in the poor countries present the masses with few comprehensible programs and subtle promises of economic growth with socialist prosperity - and so everyone tags along hitching a ride on the exhaust of the elite, on the road to oblivion. The only option that leads to sustainability (of the culture and the ecology - NOT! Economic growth as some groups would misconstrue things) is for people to seize control of their transport design, their lives... their future. (11.)

- Jase Martinique
for Revolutionary Green

Revolutionary Green: Economics For New Democracy: for notes

For a well-developed program that creates a structure where people can solve their problems as they move toward sustainability, see:

Or read the excerpt below:

Criteria for Anti-Imperialist Governments:
A Minimum Framework for Sustainability:

ECOSOLIDARITY - The Non-Fascist Response to Capitalism and Climate Catastrophe

  1. Cancel all foreign debt to US and European banks
  2. Nationalize and then turn over to regional control all important industries
  3. Restrict imports through tariffs and trade preferences for friendly countries
  4. Boycott the USA dollar, hold your reserve currencies in gold, silver, platinum or Euros until a revolutionary currency or a Liberated Block SDR is available
  5. Eliminate regressive labor, pension and minimum wage legislation
  6. Deport the IMF, their agreements, and all USA government or commercial agents
  7. Impose austerity (severe taxes) on the rich
  8. Abolition/prohibition of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (and high restrictions on research); abolition/prohibition on toxic chemicals and the overuse of agricultural chemicals. Support regional agriculture research and seed production
  9. End the Expansion of Mass Transit and utilize ration coupons for transit options
  10. No private cars in urban areas; motorized transport in urban areas primarily for business deliveries, the handicapped and elderly
  11. High fuel taxes (2-4 dollars per gallon) on private fuel sales. High vehicle registration/disposal fees on all private vehicles
  12. Abolition/prohibition on corporate business structures employing more than 100 people
  13. Beyond these restraints on transport, economic concentration and toxic materials we believe that a democratic and sustainable government will reduce imports, end dependency and invest in the localized production of basic needs goods (food, water, energy, building materials and all of the tools required to produce each of these necessities.). This will employ all of the people
  14. The sign that a sane government is operating will be seen when the workers are given the factories they work in and people the homes they live in - debt free. Once that is done and food is prioritized we won't have to worry about economics

What is novel and truthful about this program is that it would work for 8 billion people.

No other plan can make this claim.

The key to reducing waste and equalizing incomes is to utilize ration coupons and to charge for services (like water, power, garbage, schools and health care) according to a sliding scale. Everyone would receive monthly coupons for transport, basic foods, utilities and medicines. Home ownership would be very cheap as land trusts would capture increased speculative values and yearly community-issued coupons for basic building supplies would make improvements and maintenance cheap. The charges for basic levels of water, power, medicine, health care and garbage/sanitation would be about equal to the coupons received by households. Those wanting to consume more would pay steeply increasing rates. Those people who consume less than the basic levels could sell their coupons on the open market - though the coupons would be numbered to control excess graft.

The major expense of non-farm families would be food. Community councils could grant temporary emergency rate relief in special circumstances - such as: a severe cold spell where energy consumption goes up, a widow with many children, or say a company that lost its bio-diesel generator and needs to buy extra electricity. Flexibility and a joy of learning will be important to the success of experiments in New Democracy and Sustainability:

We welcome comment and challenges to the Ecosolidarity Program from Marxists, Liberals, Libertarians and anyone interested in reducing economic impacts on the planet and surviving global warming.

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