How The Sprawl Lobby Is Totalitarian

MLewyn's picture

I recently read the following comment justifying sprawl-oriented policies: "people still want the freedom of choice, privacy and flexibility a car affords." 

I have often seen this sort of argument; it seems to me to endorse the following chain of logic: (1) an unspecified number of "people" (presumably a majority) want cars and therefore (2) we should enact policies that make car ownership effectively mandatory (e.g. using highways to shift development to places without public transit, building streets too wide to be crossable by pedestrians).

This argument strikes me as essentially totalitarian: it proposes that the majority of people want a certain lifestyle (car-oriented sprawl) and supports policies to turn that majority into unanimity.  In other words, the "people want cars" argument is essentially a claim that almost 100 percent of households should be forced to buy what a smaller majority of the people (allegedly) want. 

Of course, it could be argued that more balanced transportation and land use policies also force people to buy what they do not want; just as nondrivers pay for roads, drivers pay for bike paths.  But car-oriented policies are nevertheless more intrusive, becuase they require almost all people to purchase the same thing.

To draw an analogy: imagine two nations where supermarkets where controlled by the State, Breshnevland and Marketsocialland.  In Breshnevland supermarkets, the health-obssessed bureaucracy only sells water.  In Marketsocialland, milk, soda, and alcohol are also available.  In Marketsocialland, government's failure to understand consumer preferences sometimes leads to shortages and overpriced drinks.  Nevertheless, consumers are undoubtedly freer in Marketsocialland than in Breshnevland.

The car-oriented city is more like Breshnevland; only one product is available.  Marketsocialland is not a true free market- but nevertheless, consumers certainly have more choices and are more free to change their preferences there.


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