A reader asks me why he can’t have a Mahindra Roxor – which is basically a Jeep CJ/Wrangler 4×4 that costs half as much as a new Wrangler. One’s legal to drive on public roads, the other’s not.
So, you can have it . . . you just can’t drive it. Not on “public” roads, that is.
Because the government won’t allow it. The government says it doesn’t comply with various saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety standards – though neither did a Jeep Willys back in the ’50s or a CJ in the ’70s and you could buy – and use on public roads – either of those when it was new. Also air-cooled/rear-engined VW Beetles and all kinds of other vehicles which we’re not allowed to drive anymore on the roads we pay for but which the government asserts ownership over.
America used to be a relatively free country – and isn’t anymore.
It was until comparatively recently an extremely free country in terms of cars. Before the late 1960s, the car industry was largely free to build practically anything it wanted to – from pocket-sized BMW Isettas and semi-seaworthy Amphicars to gaudy Chryslers with twin-four barrel V8s – and if people bought what was built, everyone was happy.
It’s why cars had great big fins and all kinds of different engines and layouts – and ranged from the extremely basic to the ultra-elaborate. A horse for every course – and budget.
But then government got into the car design business. First, with regard to emissions – which were “uncontrolled” before 1967 – and then (the precedent having been established) saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. Today, the government micromanages the car industry and effectively dictates vehicle design, with the result being that new cars are expensive, homogenous and largely not much fun anymore.
Thus, you are not allowed to buy a simple Jeep-like vehicle such as the Roxor.
It merely cannot pass the latest battery of crash tests the government requires and lacks equipment such as a back-up camera. Well, a 1990 S-Class Mercedes couldn’t pass current crash tests and also doesn’t have a back-up camera.
Is it an “unsafe” car?
“Unsafe” properly defined means a vehicle that is crash-prone; of unsound design – i.e., defective. A vehicle that is merely light may not hold up as well in a crash – if it crashes. But being light and lacking air bags and back-up cameras does not mean it is more likely to crash.
The distinction is important.
A buyer of, say a Roxor (or an old Beetle and so on) is well-aware that the vehicle doesn’t have eight air bags and that if he runs into a tree, etc., it will go worse for him than if he did the same in a new S-Class. But he accepts this higher hypothetical risk in exchange for the very real benefits of the lighter weight/simpler/lower cost vehicle.
He goes into it knowing what he’s buying.
An “unsafe” vehicle, properly defined, would be one that has hidden design flaws the buyer doesn’t know about that could result in injury to him. And that is a matter for the courts, not the regulatory apparat.
We speak of it – have been conditioned to regard it – as if it were a kind of Oz behind the curtain, all-wise, all-knowing. Or at least, knowing more than we poor fools – and by dint of that superior wisdom, rightfully endowed with the power to act in loco parentis, as a kind of guardian.
But “the government” is nothing more than other people – not (as Bastiat and Spooner observed) a special race of people. That the people who compose “the government” consider themselves a special race does not make it so.
Because they have acquired the power to impose their flawed judgment upon us. Air bags, for example, can kill you. A new car with terrible blind spots caused by massive slabs of steel to make it “safe” actually make it less so – because you’re more likely to crash, not being able to see very well.
Kids are left to roast in the back seat because the government has made it illegal for kids to ride up front, where parents tend not to forget their existence.
Who have acquired the power to dictate the parameters of car design the industry must abide by and force you to buy what they decree, regardless of your own wishes to the contrary. It’s a luminescently arrogant and condescending position – like a parent telling a child that he must eat his broccoli before leaving the table – without the well-meaning aspect.
We are not children and other adults are not our parents.
These people – “the government” – have no more moral right to decree that you may not buy and drive an airbag-less vehicle such as the Roxer than they do to decree that you must eat your veggies. But having acquired the power to decree that you must buy a car with airbags (and many other things) these people – “the government” – have also acquired the power to decree that you will eat your veggies, too.
This hasn’t been globally asserted yet, but it is being asserted piecemeal. For example the soda bans and punitive taxes on the same. In principle, it is the power to force you to eat a “balanced” meal. And to not smoke – and to punish if you do.
This, too, is also already being done.
What’s happened is that busybodies have acquired legal power to busybody. It happened because of general passivity, over a span of many decades. The ordinary people of this country tolerated “the government” – those people – forcing the car industry to hang hideously ugly (and very heavy) bumpers on all new cars, beginning in the early 1970s.
That was the precedent which established the practice.
Having been accepted, more of the same followed and here we are – forced to buy vehicles like the current “compliant” Jeep Wrangler with six air bags, back-up cameras, a bloated, poor visibility interior . . . and and a base price of more than $28,000 vs. just under $16,000 for the Roxor (see here) sans what those people insist you buy.
Which you would have been able to buy – and drive – anywhere you liked as recently as 1970.
When America was practically a Libertarian paradise compared with what it is today.
. . .
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