U.S. Cars: Now Devouring $1.5 Trillion a Year

I’ve been busy trying to finish my book about corporate capitalism’s addiction to perpetuating cars-first transportation in the United States, no matter the cost.

As part of this work, I just updated my estimate of the annual expenditures we Americans are compelled to make on this arrangement. The number is now at $1.5 trillion dollars a year.

Here are a few thoughts on that staggering figure:

Only 7 countries on Earth have a Gross Domestic Product (i.e., an entire national economy) that exceeds $1.5 trillion per year.

The gargantuan U.S. expenditure on autos-über-alles is actually substantially lower than it properly should be, if the maintainence and construction of automotive roads and bridges were keeping pace with the technical requirements for non-worsening operation.  How extreme the shortfall in road-building might be is something to contemplate in your next traffic jam.

Note that the $1.5 billion figure excludes the indirect costs imposed by autos-über-alles: increased medical and legal expenses caused by car crashes, for example.

Overall, the vast economic wastefulness of the whole arrangement is matched by equally huge missed opportunities.  As the great Jared Diamond says:

Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

Or as I myself argue in my the forthcoming book:

As our schools crumble, our library close, and tens of millions of us go without health insurance, we Americans in 2008 spent 1.5 trillion dollars buying, equipping, fixing, fueling, parking, insuring, and road-building for our cars.i What kind of Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory transportation system would we now have, had we spent on railroads, bike paths, and pedestrians-first cities even half what we’ve spent on automobiles over the last century? How nice would our towns, schools, hospitals, and insurance programs be if we could stop squandering so many resources on automotive goods and services?

$1.5 trillion, by the way, is more than 60 times the annual expenditure of SNCF, the French national railroad system, which is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and luxurious in the world.

5 Replies to “U.S. Cars: Now Devouring $1.5 Trillion a Year”

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  2. Pingback: ezineaerticles » Blog Archive » US Cars: Now Devouring $1.5 Trillion a Year
  3. I can hardly wait! It seems like every Tom, Dick, and Harry is saying things like “If we didn’t spend so much money on war and defense, imagine what we could do with it instead,” but it’s refreshing that somebody says “If we didn’t spend so much money on CARS, imagine what we could do with it instead”! 1.5 trillion dollars a year. Plus, those wonderful phrases – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory transportation system”! Maybe the Dembots will promise us something like that? Nah, they’re more into Hara-Kiri You Can Believe In!

    Last month I was in Boston for the first time (we live in Luxembourg, but we took our 7-year-old daughter to vacation in the US for the first time, so she could see for herself the country that issued her passport. I hadn’t been there in almost 9 years. Talk about suddenly dropping the frog into water that has been slowly rising to a boil!), and I was admiring their subway system, a public transportation system that’s way better than what most U.S. cities have (mostly nothing), but still laughably short of what it COULD have been, everywhere always dirty and occasional bits sometimes broken, and I was thinking a very similar thought: “Imagine what this could be like if they had spent money on THIS instead of on cars and streets and so on!”

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, RJ! That really means a lot, believe me!

    I’ve been to France and other European countries, and also to Boston, NYC, and Washington D.C. The Paris Metro is certainly my idea of the model of an urban metro. It has a station every 4 or 5 blocks, and is clean, beautiful, and even fun.

    Boston, as you say is an important miss.

    Heck, I went to a conference in Seoul, Korea a couple years ago, and that former dirt-road town now looks like Manhattan, including an NYC-scale subway system. The Koreans are very in love with cars, since they now are a major maker, but you get the point. In the USA, our “leaders” want us to believe that it’s impossible to rebuild our cities, despite examples like Seoul.

    Another thing that fascinates me is the issue of what Europeans might do as a reaction to peak oil. If you look at those French transportation statistics, you see that even the French are spending huge amounts on cars and roads, over and above the SNCF system. Excuse my French, but what the fuck for?

    How are things in BeNeLux? The reportage I’ve seen is that it’s a real hotspot on this issue…


  5. Though I follow U.S. politics rather closely – at least I can (and do) vote in them! – I don’t follow Luxembourg politics at all. My Luxembourgish wife (who can, and has to, vote in them) doesn’t either; she says there’s no point since all the politicians are the same. Even with more than 2 major parties here….

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