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August 24, 2004

"Paving America"

Dear Vanessa --

Recently I've been enjoying a History Channel series called Modern Marvels. Have you run across it? Unfancily-presented hour-long shows on topics like "The World's Biggest Machines," or "Domed Stadiums" -- wonders-of-engineering stuff that arty ol' me knows nothing about. All the shows have been good; they've also presented just about as much info on their topics as, truthfully speaking, I'm interested in learning. This seems to confirm a hunch I occasionally give voice to here: I suspect I'm like many people in the sense of being a one-hour-documentary's-worth interested in a ton of subjects, but a 600-page-book's-worth interested in very few. Take that, book publishing.

A striking recent episode of Modern Marvels was entitled Paving America, and was about the creation of the country's automobile highways. I was probably more struck by it than by some other episodes because of the role that road-making and highway-making have played in shaping the aesthetic qualities (for better or worse) of America. Artsies will and do talk about the supposedly-immense importance of this art movement or that art style. But how many art styles can compare in terms of aesthetic impact on the country to the creation of the Interstate Highway System?

Roads, highways, cars ... As David Sucher has written on his blog here, the main difference between towns and neighborhoods that are much-loved and those that are less-loved is that the ones we're fondest of weren't created specifically to suit automobiles.

The paving of America has had many huge impacts -- on the country's economy, of course, and on its health record as well: millions of Americans have died and been injured in traffic accidents. In fact, "no other phenomenon has so influenced our lives as the paving of America," says the show's voice-over. Is this hype or true? What about mass innoculation, or the creation of effective sewage systems? But no matter how you judge "influencing our lives," the paving of American has certainly got to be up there near the top of the list.

It's astounding how thoroughly the country has been transformed by paved roads. Here's how a few road-related things were in America before we began large-scale paving.

  • Even in 1907, fewer than half of New York City's streets were paved.
  • Nearly all of the country's non-city roads were dirt, and often mud, roads.
  • Many of the nation's roads and streets were unmarked. What road signs existed were often faulty or misleading.
  • Maps of the country's roads were (more or less) nonexistent.
  • When roads were paved, the "paving" was likely to be a matter of cobblestone, wooden planks, or even logs laid side by side ("corrugated roads").

Interesting to learn that early paved-road building in America was largely sparked and sponsored by private groups and by local governments. The result was a patchwork of scattered, paved miles. Many of the country's roads remained dirt and mud for decades.

In 1912, an engineer named Carl Fisher, who'd just built the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, announced plans to build a coast-to-coast paved highway. With some financing from Goodyear and a lot more from Henry Joy of Packard Motors, Fisher set to work on the Lincoln Highway, an attempt to link up a number of the country's paved stretches. By the time Lincoln Highway efforts came to an end in the late '20s, competing highways like the Dixie and the Lee were also well underway, the country was being crisscrossed by millions of vehicles, and the Federal government had begun involving itself in the business of paving roads.

Some other nifty road facts:

  • The first "stop" sign wasn't put up until 1915.
  • An early, successful attempt to cross the country by car was made by Emily Post, not yet the etiquette queen she later became. Accompanied by two other people, she made the trip to help publicize the Lincoln Highway project.
  • The paving of highways led to the creation of, or gave big boosts to, a variety of businesses, many of which have been with us ever since: roadside campgrounds, billboards, tourist cabins, roadside restaurants.
  • The first motel (short for "motor hotel") was the Glenora Courts, which opened in San Luis Obispo in 1925.

The history of the Federal government's involvement in roadbuilding is fascinating too. Although Washington moved into the road-paving field in 1921, federally-sponsored paved-road-building didn't become a big deal until FDR. As part of the New Deal, he earmarked $3.3 billion towards roadbuilding, three times as much money as D.C. had ever spent on roads in the country's entire history.

One of the biggest federal-government projects ever -- and one that has played a hard-to-overestimate role in shaping post- WWII American life -- was the Interstate Highway System, work on which began in the middle 1950s. As a general during WWII, Dwight Eisenhower had been struck by the warmaking effectiveness of Germany's Autobahns; he wanted something similar for America. As President in the 1950s, Ike was in charge of a country caught up in a Cold War; he wanted a way to move troops and equipment around the country quickly. So Eisenhower fought for and won $25 billion in backing for the Interstate Highway System, the largest public-works project in history; ultimately, workmen laid down 42,500 miles of highway, and paved enough land to surface the entire state of West Virginia.

In other words, the Interstate Highway System -- which, among much else, has helped shape American settlement patterns (think suburbanization, urban flight, and sprawl) for decades -- was motivated by Cold War military concerns. Interesting as well to realize that suburbanization, urban flight, and sprawl have been subsidized by the federal government, no? This is something that those who argue that suburbs and sprawl represent free choices made by free people in a simple free market seem reluctant to wrestle with. Why are overpasses 16 feet high? Not to make room for commercial trucking, and certainly not because 16 feet looks pretty, but because 16 feet's clearance was needed to enable military vehicles transporting missiles to pass underneath.

A small note on aesthetics and highways: The Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the country's first landscaped highway, opened in 1938. It was a big and immediate success.

Here's the Modern Marvels website. You can buy a videocassette of "Paving America" here. Here's the website of the Lincoln Highway Association. Here's a history of America's highway system. A well-reviewed book by Tom Lewis about highways and their impact can be bought here. Here's an Amazon Listmania reading list for "roadgeeks."

In 1999, the Fannie Mae Foundation released a survey of the top ten influences on American cities over the past half century. Number one on the list: the 1956 Interstate Highway Act.



posted by Michael at August 24, 2004



The road for which we long,
The road that is our song,

From sedentary grief
Give us winged relief.

Enough it is to be
Upon you woe to flee.

Thou tantamount to all
That lifts us from our pall,

Call ever to our heart,
Depart! Depart! Depart!

Posted by: ricpic on August 24, 2004 6:52 AM

The mid-1950s to mid-1960s was by far the most influential era since WWII, and, I suspect, will remain the dominant era for quite a while to come. It was the true "big-government" era, complete with the Interstate Highway system, Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights and affirmative action, the "opening up" of the immigration system, the significant bump-up in Social Security payments, etc., etc. (It also saw the creation of the ICBM and nuclear submarine missile systems, by far the most sinister weapon-systems in all history.) The Depression/WWII generation was calling the shots, and they were big believers in collective action--and it showed. But the crucial factor that dictated the extreme 'liberal' tone of this era was the booming economy of the 1950s, during which tax-reciepts at all levels of government increased at a rate never seen since. This was a heady circumstance impossible for politicians to resist, and, needless to say, didn't encourage financial realism. The budget-busting effects of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have long been masked by the presence of the baby boom in the work force, but now that the boomers are retiring the impacts will be, ahem, considerable if not mind-blowing. That to one side, of course, one can certainly argue that the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties was the greatest watershed in American life in the past century, for good or ill. I wonder why the era doesn't get the kind of political respect it deserves?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 24, 2004 11:25 AM

One of the reasons that Eisenhower was so impressed by the Autobahn system was that he was on the Transcontinental Motor Convoy in 1919.

This was a military convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco -- a distance of 3,251 miles. It took 62 days.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 24, 2004 11:35 AM

What Friedrich says is very true, as far as it goes. I think much (not all) of what that period produced was an implementation of ideas that came from the pre-war period, especially the 1920s, which I think was probably the most influential decade of the 20th century in America. The corporatist planning vision comes that time; many if not all of the transformations in morals and mores that we associate with the postwar world actually date to the 1920s (and 1910s), albeit without the pill to help them along; and the "urban renewal" of the 1950s-1960s drew from architectural ideas of the 1920s. Friedrich is right to point out that the fifties figured out how to pay (or appear to pay) for it all.

Just so, for all the talk about the military planning that went into the Interstate Highway System, I can't believe that something like that system wouldn't have emerged anyway had there been no military considerations at all. Municipalities were well under way with their "high speed" roadway systems before the war, and the linking up of these systems in a manner analogous to the transcontinental railroad was only a matter of time, war or no war.

By the way, I'm curious why that show would call the Merritt the first "landscaped highway." The Bronx River Parkway was begun as early as 1907, and Robert Moses "parkways," e.g. the Southern State, well predate the Merritt.

The twenties and thirties were besotted with visions of highways.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on August 24, 2004 1:48 PM

It's like we're still trying to make up for, or adjust to, or reform, or whatever, what got put in place from '55 to '65. All these grandiose schemes that we're evidently unable to uproot entirely, and so keep flailing away at, trying to make them workable.

FWIW (and y'all clearly know much more about this than I do), another point I've heard made about that era concerned the psychological impact of the victory in WWII. The Greatest Gen had learned, or so they thought, that we could mobilize, fight, and suceed on a huge scale -- it had worked in the war. We'd defeated the Hun, the economy was roaring, big government seemed to have been vindicated ... So they went on conceiving of projects in a bigscale, topdown, hyper-ambitious, who-da-man, militaristic way, which didn't start to come apart until the imbroglio on 'Nam created a kind of crackup of confidence. Do you experts buy that as a general picture?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 24, 2004 2:23 PM

Not to be a pedant or anything, but you do realize that what we're typing into here is another ambitious cold war product of the 60s, right?

It's equally true to say that the 90s and 00s are besotted with visions of highways. In fact, I'd just jump right out there and say that every generation is besotted with visions of highways, if only so we can dump the clutch and get away from the 'rents for a little while.

That's a very interesting theory about the top-down stuff, MB. It fits the facts, but the true question in my mind is: why'd we crack? Probably trying to get away from the family unit again...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 24, 2004 9:51 PM

Well they were more or less correct. No?

Posted by: David Sucher on August 24, 2004 11:07 PM

Michael, it's definitely true that the war gave a big boost to a certain ethos, if you will, but it did not, as I see it, *create* that ethos. That is, all of that fifties stuff had its roots in the prewar world, in scientific planning, the technocratic mindset, the La Guardia-Moses transformation of New York, etc.

David Gelernter is good on this in his book 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, about how postwar America basically realized the whole "world of tomorrow" scenario of the 1930s. But the scenario belongs to the 1930s, even if the implementation belongs to the fifties and sixties.

Another thing to consider is that the war planning itself did not spontaneously arise out of nothing. It drew from a mentality that was already pretty developed. It had to be, given the sheer speed with which we put ourselves on a war footing.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on August 25, 2004 12:07 AM

Now, why to walk around the term? Let's just name the ethos of the 30's - it's socialism, in it's very characteristic pre-war Soviet or German form.
All your descriptions - scientific planning, technocratic mindset, as well as " topdown, hyper-ambitious, who-da-man, militaristic way" - are perfect counterparts for "central planning", "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country"(Lenin), "labor enthusiasm of the masses", "DneproGAS is the biggest project of the century", complex GTO ("Ready for Labor and Defence"), etc, etc.

The difference, as I see it, that at a certain point individualism of the Americans prevailed and instead of close network of state-funded railroads (mass-transportation) automobiles (personal transportation) and automobile infrastructure had won.

Personally, I'd prefer a bit more of communal spirit: I don't drive. Nor would I want to; I think being a driver is as much of a separate profession as being a dancer: some people have natural capacity for it, some don't. Automobile death statistics seems to agree with me. I do perfectly fine being a passenger, thank you.
Although I'd rather be a passenger in a train and in a bus than in a car. [thank god my son isn't reading this blog: he's in the fanatic phase of his car love affair]

Anyway, does anybody know, are there any calculation as to why building interstates and branching off automobile roads is preferred to building railroads? At what point private capital (all those railroad barons and characters from Dreiser trilogy)got disappointed in mass transportation? I'm not an economist and obviously might be wrong, but it seems to me mass transpot is more profitable than personal. I think it requires more initial investment but less further maintenance.

I have nothing to back up this theory.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 25, 2004 8:30 AM

In my opinion, the biggest problem with mass transit is that it doesn't go where I want to go when I want to go there. As one freind of mine said "when the Metro stops at the McDonalds drive-through window I'll start using it".
Also, the railroads were doing fairly well prior to the building of the interstates. It was the competition from trucks using the new highways that hurt them and turned them into the likes of Amtrak..

Posted by: Grumpy on August 25, 2004 9:04 AM

Mr. Sucher:

I realized you addressed your comment (Well they were more or less correct. No?) to Michael, not me, but please allow me to horn in on the discussion.

The world as it was envisioned in the 20's and 30's and finally implemented in the 50's and 60's is the one I've lived in all my life, and it hasn't been catastrophically bad (or at least not yet.) However, I think you'd have to be sort of insensitive not to notice that people have clearly had a reaction against, or at least prolonged second thoughts about, the "we can do anything we can dream up" ethos of the middle of the 20th century. For one thing, we've had to live with the downsides of the heroic systems of that era, which include: urban decay, suburban isolation and sprawl, the rise of ethnic and racial identity politics, massive levels of immigration and consequent increases in population, the worldwide political and military obligations of the U.S. and the consequent imbroglios like Vietnam, Iraq, etc., the very significant uptick in taxation (50% to 100% over levels in 1950) necessary to pay the tab for all this, the sense that many other priorities (say an improved primary and secondary education system) would be nice but can't be afforded because, er, Lyndon Johnson got there first and spent all of his and everyone else's money back way back in 1964. Not to mention the looming public finance crisis (no lesser word will do) about to be caused by Medicare and Social Security payments to Boomers and subsequent generations, which will further constrict the vision of what is possible in the public sector.

So while totally dissing the accomplishments of the mid-20th century would be silly, I'm not sure it's wrong to say that we're a bit "sadder-but-wiser" at this point.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 25, 2004 9:22 AM

Tatyana, Is it possible that the diversion of capital from railroads to cars/trucks came about because the autonomous vehicle is a marvelous and freeing device and that its superiority over the 'communal' train was obvious to the majority of people?

As an urbanist I see little significant future for communal travel. (Put aside NYC, which is an extraordinary 'sport' in American geography.) The train or bus or monorail should be heavily supported for a variety of reasons and will have some effect in local corridors and at specific times of day but it will have little cumulative impact. Whatever its power source and/or size, the predominant mode of travel within cities for this century will be some sort of vehicle which can be (primarily) directed by its own driver. Most people like to drive and it took no conspiracy of capitalists to make the transformation from train-based society to auto-dependent one.

Planning for comfortable cities must take that basic reality -- cars for a long time to come -- into account or nothing will improve.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 25, 2004 9:33 AM

Friedrich, Let's just say that maybe you look at the glass dirty & half empty and I look at it enjoyed & half-full.

For example, you decry 'identity politics'
-- and why is it that so many people who complain & whine so much about the present and who have 'second thoughts' about it are middle-aged white men? I have a really funny story about that one --
and my response would be that that grew out of one of the most stirring and glorious deeds in American history: our attempt to reverse the greatest blot on our history: segregation.

OF COURSE there is a lot of foolishness about and people talk dumb when it comes to 'political correctness' but I chalk that up to the natural flow of the pendulum. 'Identity politics' -- whatever that code-word truly is to you -- is in my mind just a little over-reaction to trying to remove the blot of segregation and I don't take it all that seriously except to think it's silly.

And yes, the enormous growth of the car and Interstates has done horrible things to our cities; we have been very unwise in our use of our great powers. I agree. But that is a problem of success.

But by and large, I would say that even with all its faults, and there are many, there has never been a finer large country than the USA and that our society is enormously successful and that much of that success is due to the imperfect policies of previous generations. What they did was hardly perfect and they were venal and banal, I don't mean to make them heroic. But we live in a very very wonderful country in which our major problems are either ones of success -- e.g. the impacts of the car -- or that not enough people take part in it.

Yes we have problems and sure we'd do things over slightly differently if we had the chance -- wouldn't we all say that in our own personal lives? -- but writ large in terms of domestic policies, what we really do differently? I'd say that we'd still have built an Interstate system but that we would have handled the way the new roads in cities a bit more intelligently. Does the call forth a fundamental turning away from the so-called American (because lots and lots of other people in the world also had and have big dreams) "can-do" spirit? I don't think so. Maybe just applying it with a bit more subtly and astuteness would be my response.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 25, 2004 10:03 AM

Grumpy wrote:
>>Also, the railroads were doing fairly well prior to the building of the interstates. It was the competition from trucks using the new highways that hurt them and turned them into the likes of Amtrak.

Aren't freight railroads still a profitable business? It is passenger railroads that have tanked.

Tatyana wrote:
>> mass transpot is more profitable than personal. I think it requires more initial investment but less further maintenance.

I'm not sure about that. Mass transit requires *phenomenal* levels of upkeep.

David wrote:
>>As an urbanist I see little significant future for communal travel.

I think that may have something to do with who's right about the "coming oil crisis." If the Hubbertites are correct, I don't know if we're going to have much choice.

Tatyana wrote:
>>I think being a driver is as much of a separate profession as being a dancer: some people have natural capacity for it, some don't.

While I tend to agree with David Sucher (as I do 90% of the time), this comment from Tatyana is still my favorite thing that I've read on the Internet this month.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on August 25, 2004 10:14 AM

Mr. Sucher:

Clearly we seem to belong to different places on the political continuum. I guess the second thoughts that I mentioned are chiefly about the way in which large, public sector policy initiatives tend to have very high opportunity costs (they tend to foreclose a vast number of other options, a fact almost never appreciated at the time they are imposed) and that they tend to make society far more rigid, even fossilized. I really meant what I said about many, many other priorities being neglected--permanently, essentially forever or at least for our lifetimes--because Lyndon Johnson and a few sessions of Congress in the mid-1960s committed us to Medicare and Medicaid, and then went on to bump up Social Security spending (okay, that happened under Nixon.) People in 2020 might wish that it hadn't happened, but the fact that once such initiatives are enacted they can apparently NEVER be eliminated or even successfully downsized (too much special-interest pressure) essentially means that the denizens of the 2020s have been trumped, effectively disempowered, by their grandparents--who of course couldn't really understand the full impacts of what they were voting for in the first place.

I think any thoughtful person might find the rigidity associated with such programs a pretty good reason to go very, very carefully when contemplating them, and perhaps to work hard at limiting their scope. You know, the same way you would navigate when driving a car that you can steer only very slightly and with no reverse gear.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 25, 2004 10:35 AM

...Most people like to drive...
They have no choice, do they? Ask 80 y.o. lady, would she drive to the pharmacy herself if she had a busstop at the corner (and a sidewalk to get there, unlike the reality of suburbia), along with enough buses to limit waiting time to 7-10 min.
Ask a suburbanite, who has to pay for two (min) cars, car insurance and maintenance in the family, and then some for the junior when he/she gets into college (not counting very real possibility of the car accidents). What if one or, god forbid, two bread-winners got temporarily unemployed? Car payments don't wait for paycheck.

...the autonomous vehicle is a marvelous and freeing device...
Yeah, if you think of it in terms of TV commercial, when there are only shiny new road, shiny new car (with you at the wheel, preferably) and nothing else in the whole world all the way to horizon.
In reality it's traffic stalls everywhere, in Detroit as much as in Connecticut (NY is not the only "sport" in the country). I guess "road rage" is a fickle of my imagination, otherwise how to explain its widespread if the car is such a "freeing" device?

Now, about the "ease of getting everywhere": with enough vehicles of public transport (made with newest technologies and lowest emission engines, etc.) and with enough of variety of combinations of them you can get anywhere as well, with min time and money spent and min trouble to you personally. Worst thing about Amtrak is not it's price, but limited amount of places it gets to, countrywise (not mentioning inefficiency of any monopoly). And what train passenger to do after the train arrived to it's destination? There is no buses, trams or shuttles of any sort; the only way is to rent a car, again.

Best city I've seen in US transportation-wise, is Boston, with it's combination of at least 3 means of public transport available, it's being a relatively small city where if you want you can just walk or bike anywhere.
And David, where did I say anything about "capitalist conspiracy"? I don't equate American individualism (which is a good thing in my vocabulary) with any political system.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 25, 2004 10:43 AM

I'm showing some residual idealism and foolishness here, but would appreciate guidance ...

When it comes to mass transit vs. cars ... Is it fair to talk about people (en masse) preferring cars? I've never been sure. We've done soooo much subsidizing of cars and car transportation, not just through the building and maintaining of roads, but through all we've done in support of an oil-based economy (including wars and weirdo foreign policies) -- I mean, how can we know what people'd have done for transportation if they hadn't been steered so aggressively into their cars. I like driving myself, but I do sometimes find myself wondering how the country might have developed if we'd channeled those billions -- possibly trillions -- into other transportation priorities. Or, what the heck, if the government hadn't scarfed up the money in the first place, and had just let people make their own choices. I seem to remember (from, ahem, my days on the outskirts of the rad-environmental world) various studies showing how much we bury and disguise the costs of a car-based world. We don't pay anything near the actual price of it when we buy a car, pay insurance, and buy gas -- the money to maintain aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, for instance, isn't coming from gas taxes, it's coming from general taxes on all of us.

Does anyone have any hunches about how things might have played out had we not so aggressively subsidized a car-centric world? And is anyone fully persuaded that we did subsidize a car-centric world simply because "the people" wanted it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 25, 2004 10:51 AM

The only way that 42,500 miles of interstate could pave over the state of West Virginia (24,231 sq mi) would be to make the highways almost 1/2 mile wide. What roads have you been driving on?

Posted by: Bill on August 25, 2004 12:25 PM

I was just scribbling down the facts (or maybe better, "facts") that the documentary was presenting ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 25, 2004 12:27 PM

The key question in this whole oil issue is whether it is true that:

The downside of Hubbert's Curve will be a slope, not a cliff.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 25, 2004 5:33 PM

As an afterthought on a car topic(or few):
There is an amusing post over at Asymetrical Information, shows just how ingrown "car mentality" is in Americans. (Recall - tangenially, but still - Bradbury short story about cars being treated as dress -boy meets girl, they have a date and got caught when- o horror!- they remove their "clothes", i.e. got out of their cars)

Modern Marvels is ...well...marvelous. I saw their *Bridges* program - highly recommended to anyone interested in this marriage of architecture and structural engineering.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 25, 2004 6:39 PM

And is anyone fully persuaded that we did subsidize a car-centric world simply because "the people" wanted it?

What came first, the car or the road?

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 28, 2004 1:45 PM


At there's a diagram of the Townless Highway and the Highwayless Town to go along with

Michael Blowhard has an interesting post about the interstate highway system at 2blowhards. The highway system was the both the most expensive public works project in the history of the world and the world's biggest social experiment modern suburbia and sprawl couldn't have happened without it.

Not many know that the design of the highways was hijacked by traffic engineers and the dreams of a few architects and designers like Le Corbusier and Norman Bel Geddes (paid for by General Motors at the 193940 World's Fair Futurama "What's good for General Motors is good for America.").

The original American model was for "The Townless Highway and the Highwayless Town." In that system, the highways would have been parkways in the countryside, rather than generators of sprawl. And when the cars returned to the city they would have acted in a civilized way: the highway would have remained outside the city, with the two would have been connected by Parisian-like boulevards.

Posted by: john massengale on August 30, 2004 11:33 AM

And is anyone fully persuaded that we did subsidize a car-centric world simply because "the people" wanted it?


Posted by: David Sucher on August 30, 2004 1:43 PM

There's another, larger issue here: the pernicious effect of convenience. The automobile and Interstate certainly feed into this, but they're not the whole story. We Americans now live in a society where we can have anything we want, any time we want it. Beyond securing an income no one has to make any kind of effort at all. It's not a new idea -- writers have been imagining it for decades -- but now the experiment has been performed, and the result is that we have a sedentary population unconcerned with anything but consuming whatever products will make it feel satiated, whether food or entertainment. It's very hard to give up comfort unless forced to. So our oligarchy keeps the People full, and the People let them. I wonder if it can be reversed.

Posted by: MDS Chill on August 31, 2004 10:06 AM

Consider me jaded - a former activist. As such, my response, to MDS Chill:

Our society won't be "reversed", not by anyone trying to do so. Besides, arguably, an enlightened minority, humans generally act like the animals we are, rarely making self-sacrifice until something compels us to do so - until the gun is to our head.

However, there will be a necessity in the coming decades. Lost in the back and forth volley about remaining petroleum reserves is a crucial fact: regardless of WHEN reserves reach their peak, *demand* is increasing hugely - mostly because of developing goliaths like China and India. So, even if oil prices don't increase due to dwindling supply anytime soon, since supply won't be able to keep up with this skyrocketing demand, it is going to quickly become a very prized commodity, and prices are going to start increasing dramatically, in the near term, regardless. I firmly believe this, at any rate - I don't see any other possible scenario. It's simple reality, free of nitpicking over actual remaining petroleum reserves.

As the price of oil jacks up, it will start to have very interesting effects indeed on the American or "western" lifestyle. I enjoy free-marketers playing the devil's advocate and cheerleading for gross overconsumption as a god-given right, that's fine - but what happens when god takes that right right back? See the ever-amusing nag, Kunstler:


Posted by: Mike on August 31, 2004 9:43 PM

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