Mainstream history insists that the United States got cars-first transportation because the people spontaneously demanded it. The masses saw the automobile, and insisted on re-building the nation to facilitate it. “Americans are having a love affair with the car,” so the story goes, is all anybody needs to know about the origins of the present.
But here’s the thing: The peddlers of this tale never provide any serious evidence that this is how things actually happened. Why is that?
Here at DbC, we hold that the reason nobody provides details in support of the “love affair” thesis is that it is impossible to do so, since popular demand has never, in fact, been the leading force in the shaping of transportation policy and infrastructure in America.
All along, the actual reality has been corporate capitalist dictation of such policy and infrastructure.
Consider, for instance, the words of Lucius D. Clay, “Eisenhower’s man” in the effort to ram through funding for the Interstate Highway System in the mid-1950s. Clay, at the time a member of General Motors’ Board of Directors, explained his actions as follows:
We are indeed a nation on wheels and we cannot permit these wheels to slow down. Our mass industries must have moving supply lines to feed raw materials into our factories and moving distribution lines to carry the finished product to store or home. Moreover, the hands which produce these goods and the services which make them useful must also move from home to factory to store to home.
Our highway system has helped make this possible.
To me, the importance to the national economy of this modern highway system outweighs all other reasons why it should be built.
All I can say is that 10 years from now we’ll have 80 million motor vehicles-and we better have the roads. Because if we don’t have the roads, we may not have the 80 million vehicles. And that, I think, would be very unfortunate for the whole country.
If we don’t build the roads, we may not have the cars.
Hardly the words of somebody operating in a situation where the masses are clamoring for more automobiles, is it?