Bob Franken

My Way-Not the Highway

Time and again we hear the same infuriating argument…words to the effect that “…even though the (fill in the blank) industry has been grossly mismanaged by greedy incompetents, we have no choice but to feed them billions upon billions in public money. If we don’t everything will collapse. If they go under, we all go under”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Now we’re hearing this broken record about the broken economy from the suddenly humble US auto industry executives. Like massive tapeworms, they’ve managed to burrow into our society. In this case, they have become so embedded, they are essential even as they sap our strength.

Put another way, we are being held hostage. By the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Worst of all, we invited them in. In the last century or so we have been conned into revering the horseless carriage, to the point of shutting out all the inherent dire consequences. We’ve scoffed at the massive damage to the environment. We’ve accepted crippling dependence on oil so we can get the pseudo-sexual gratification of driving the hottest car we can’t afford.

Still, we cannot ignore the fact that the automobile industry is now a fundamental and substantial portion of the all-important US industrial base…or what remains of it. If the manufacturers disappear, so do the millions of jobs that depend on them. What to do?

Here’s what: We give the automakers the billions they’re grovelling for. And probably a lot more. But the money comes with conditions that haven’t been widely discussed.

They must be required not only to change the way they do business, but to change the business they do.

Instead of focusing on cars, they should rebuild and retool so they can create the components of a badly neglected mass transit system in the United States.

The emphasis would change from traffic clogged highways to smooth running people movers. Yes, we have them, but mainly in our largest cities, and even then, many are token efforts.

What if, instead, they were within easy reach of just about everyone. What if we went to a system that weaved buses, trains, light rail systems, all the components, so people could zip from place to place instead of wasting so much time and temper in traffic.

“Job number one” as the Ford people like to say, is overcoming decades of propaganda that has caused us to believe that hot cars are cool. That will be a huge undertaking. Hundreds of millions will need to be deprogrammed from their emotional ties to the auto cult.

It won’t be easy. Countering irrational self-destructive behavior never is. But now is the time. When better to escape from the bonds of a system that is supposed to move us around, but has become more and more paralyzed. It’s not only draining our vitality and resources, but, now, as we’re seeing, it’s crashing around us.

Let’s send these guys back to Detroit with our billions. We have to. But instead of corporate jets, or even their token hybrid cars, let’s insist that they take mass transit.

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