Any time new technology comes out, it is expensive. Completely new machines are often the folly of the affluent; the masses won’t get to enjoy them until decades later. ENIAC, the world’s first computer was debuted in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1981 that IBM brought us the PC and made the computer something we all could enjoy.
Cell phones were clunky boxes that only successful businessmen carried, and they were far too expensive for the proletariat to buy until science and the free market cut them down to size; both physically and financially.
So let’s talk about cars. 100+ years ago, the price of a car was significantly greater than the price of a horse. Plus, if you wanted a new car, you had to buy one. If you wanted a new horse, all you had to do was get your male horse together with a female horse, throw a little Barry White on the record player, and voilà! A new horse emerges months later, free of charge.
Cars were initially met with skepticism, disdain, and envy because they were loud, unreliable, and expensive. Here’s the thing though, horses have a relatively slow top speed, and even giving them the Lance Armstrong treatment isn’t going to get them up to a point where they can do 60+ mph for hours on end. So the value in cars is unmistakable. Although the technology was new, the dreamers saw that cars were the future and got to work building them, even if at the time, only the top 1% need apply.
Fast forward to the 30’s. Adolf Hitler was certainly a murderous %$@#$, but even violent psychopaths on occasion display some sort of twisted goodness, and this was his. He felt that cars shouldn’t just be for the rich and Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned to build the “people’s car” (Volkswagen) for the average Joe to buy, and the 911’s not-so-hot older sister was born.
The history of the Beetle is legendary. But let’s look at what it was—a cheap car. It looked good, had character, four wheels, an engine, and occasionally brakes. That was pretty much it. The car sold millions around the world, not because it was fast, had all the options, or was an exclusive ride, but because it was affordable.
A drivetrain, wheels, seat, and steering wheel wrapped in a steel overcoat, by itself, has tremendous value to anyone needing to get from points A to B. All the other options that have been added through the years add value, but they also add price which some people simply can’t afford.
A bare bones car appeals to two types of people. Those of us who are broke but need to go to work, and those of us who race and consider Colin Chapman’s “Weight is evil” philosophy to be that which was handed down from the gods. People who are broke and people who like to race aren’t a small demographic. We’re out there, and we’re in the millions. We want a cheap, bare bones, nothing is there that doesn’t need to be, kind of car.
So what am I whining about? The same thing everyone whines about; our well-meaning, yet ever meddling and oppressive government of course!
Any car you buy in America must be equipped with OBD2, air bags, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitoring systems, seat belts, windshields, achieve a certain MPG, meet government specified crash standards, and a whole host of other requirements our governmental overlords have legislated.
All of these gizmos and gadgets add two things; weight and cost. They have one thing in common as well; they’re not uniquely necessary on an automobile. So the ability to buy a modern-day Beetle is dead, and government killed it.
Our constitution was designed so that “we the people” would always be free to make our own decisions by limiting the powers of government to infringe upon our rights. So how does forcing me to buy an air bag that I can then legally turn off do an ounce of good? Riddle me that Batman!
A free market should allow us to buy whatever we want as long as we aren’t harming someone else by using that product, but none of these safety features actually accomplishes that goal. Instead they merely serve to infringe upon our rights to make decisions about how safe we choose to live our lives. As a libertarian, that infuriates me. That is not, nor was ever, the role of our government as laid out by our founding fathers.
I’m not one of those libertarians who float conspiracies like air biscuits; freely and aromatically-challenged. I truly believe that our politicians mean well. But let me give you an analogy. If we were going full-blown Bear Grylls in the wilderness, no cell phones, transportation, or means of getting help, and you fell and impaled your brain with something, it would be obvious you need emergency surgery. So armed with my hunting knife, I go to work. I’m no Dr. House however, so what is going to happen? You’re going to die; that’s what.
Were my intentions evil in performing surgery on you? Of course not, I was trying to save your life! So why did you die? Because while my intentions were good, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.
This is our government in a nutshell. They do their best to protect us from harm, but many of them have never worked in the auto industry and know little about it. So they make decisions every day without having the slightest comprehension of the ramifications of them.
In a proper free market society where our government does what it is supposed to do, what would happen is that government would insist we the people had information. We don’t need cars that meet certain crash standards, we only need to know what crash standards a car meets, and then we can make our decision as an informed consumer.
It is time we the people tell our government that we choose what we want and you don’t get to dictate that to us. If I want to buy an Ariel Atom and drive it to work every day, then I shouldn’t have to buy it with “some assembly required.” Give me the information I need to be an informed consumer, and then get the hell out of my way.