Political humorist Frank J. Fleming poses an interesting thought experiment: what if the car was not over a century old but was just invented recently? Would societies and governments permit the private, gasoline powered automobile?
Imagine if cars hadn’t been around for a century, but instead were just invented today. Is there any way they’d be approved for individual use? It’s an era of bans on incandescent bulbs; if you suggested putting millions of internal-combustion engines out there, you’d get looks like you were Hitler proposing the Final Solution.
Even aside from pollution, the government wouldn’t allow the risks to safety.
“So you’re proposing that people speed around in tons of metal? You must mean only really smart, well-trained people?”
“No. Everyone. Even stupid people.”
“Won’t millions be killed?”
“Oh, no. Not that many. Just a little more than 40,000 a year.”
“Oh . . . millions.”
There’s no way that would get approved today.
Driving is basically a grandfathered freedom from back when people cared less about pollution and danger and valued progress and liberty over safety.
Fleming’s perspective that we live in a much more constrained society is not new one, nor is it necessarily based on political ideology. Frank is on the political right. Leftist British historian A.J.P Taylor opens his English History 1914-1945 with the following passage:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked.