1960s >> 1964 >> no-716-april-1964

One way to solve the traffic problem

It is always pleasant to see non-Socialists putting forward views in support of our case even though sometimes they go further than we ourselves are prepared to go.


In our special issue last January we discussed the motor car and how capitalism was incapable of coping with it. What it was unable to reconcile, we stated, was social production with individual ownership; the cars come rolling off the lines in millions to be used to a negligible extent by millions of individual owners. Perhaps, we suggested, society already had more than enough cars, and all that was necessary, as would be the case under Socialism, was for them to be used sensibly as a supplementary to a comfortable, convenient, and generally well run public transport system.


Now Dr. E. J. Mishan. Reader in Economics at the London School of Economics, has put forward proposals even more far-reaching. In the March issue of the F.B.I. Review, hardly a Socialist paper, he says:


  Indeed, the one radical alternative we should take a long look at before contemplating compromise solutions is that of a gradual but total abolition of all privately-owned motor cars.


Such a solution, he goes on to say, would point a much simpler and less expensive way to a sane and sensible pattern of living:


  For a small fraction of the money we are currently spending on the maintenance of private cars and on all the Government services necessary to keep the traffic moving—to say nothing of the enormous investments required to implement the Buchanan proposals—we could simultaneously achieve three socially desirable objectives:
1. Provide a comfortable and highly efficient (and in the interests of amenity) preferably electrically powered public transport service, bus and train, in all major population areas;
2. Through Government control of public transport to restrain and perhaps reverse the spread of population that has followed in the wake of post-war speculative building which has done so much to ruin the beauty of the countryside; and
3. To restore quiet and dignity to our cities and to enable people to wander unobstructed and enjoy once more the charm of historic towns and villages.
Motorised freight should be minimised, substituting as far as possible the use of railways in built-up areas.
London’s underground, for instance, could be adapted to carry freight loads during the small hours, with shop deliveries taking place when people were off the streets.


But Dr. Mishan, like Professor Buchanan, reveals himself as yet another idealist. All that he suggests, however sensible and desirable it may be, hasn’t the slightest chance of coming about while capitalism lasts. He talks of his proposal “being worthy of consideration in a nation that prides itself on its political maturity”; unfortunately for him, the greater part of the nation are not politically mature. If they were, they would no longer tolerate a system of society based on the profit motive and on the belief that everything must be subservient to it.


The great majority support such a system. They think it right and normal for the wealth of the world to be produced primarily for sale at a profit, to be owned individually and used individually. The idea of giving up their private motor cars is as far from their minds as is the idea of Socialism itself; Dr. Mishan is yet another, therefore, who sees clearly where reason and common sense lie yet fails to see that the particular problem he is concerned with is only part of a wider issue — the issue of Socialism versus capitalism.


Dr. Mishan is at least able to see some things free from the gloss of the shallow and the spurious which capitalism attaches to everything in the modern world. His aspirations are worthy ones —he seeks to “recapture the lost sense of community and citizenship, a more leisurely and dignified way of life” — but such aspirations are doomed to failure from the start in a framework of thought which accepts capitalism as eternal.


He talks of a radical alternative, but it is in fact nothing of the sort. The radical alternative is to get rid of capitalism and replace it by Socialism.


Stan Hampson