05 February 2005

05/02/05. Welcome to Automobiles & the American Dream Coalition

Program: New Mobility Agenda

Notes: We all have our dreams. And for those of us who enjoy hearing the other guy’s point of view we would like to draw your attention to the very outstanding “American Dream Coalition” who are holding a conference to defend their values on June 17-19 in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Coalition is sponsored by IndividualLiberty.org, Special Properties, Inc. (www.specialpropertiesinc.com), the Thoreau Institute (www.ti.org/), and the Urban Mobility Corporation (http://www.innobriefs.com/). Their mobility platform is summed up as: “Mobility -- Automobiles give Americans access to better and higher paying jobs, lower-cost consumer goods, rapid-response emergency services, distant friends and relatives, and all sorts of recreation opportunities.” We leave it to you to sort this one out for yourselves. Information on how to join and support the Coallition will be found below.

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Welcome to the American Dream Coalition

2005 Preserving the American Dream conference


The American Dream Coalition is pleased to announce that the 2005 Preserving the American Dream conference will be held on June 24-26 in Bloomington, Minnesota. As anyone who attended the 2004 conference in Portland will attest, this will be an exciting event. Learn more about it and how to register by clicking here.

Why We Defend the American Dream

The American dream of freedom, mobility, and affordable homeownership has produced enormous benefits for Americans:
  • Homeownership -- More than 80 percent of Americans say their ideal home is a single-family house with a yard. Homes are one of the best investments a young family can make. The most important source of funds for new businesses in the U.S. is mortgages on the businessowner's homes.
  • Mobility -- Automobiles give Americans access to better and higher paying jobs, lower-cost consumer goods, rapid-response emergency services, distant friends and relatives, and all sorts of recreation opportunities.
  • Freedom -- According to the Heritage Foundation's 2002 Index of Economic Freedom, nations that protect property rights and other forms of economic freedom have per capita incomes at least six times greater than nations will little or no economic freedom. Higher incomes mean higher environmental quality as well.
Despite these benefits, this dream is being challenged by a new planning doctrine known as smart growth, which calls for dense urban development, restrictions on rural development, rail transit boondoggles, and barriers to auto driving. Despite its attractive name, smart growth is one of the greatest threats to American mobility, affordable housing, and freedom today.
  • Homeownership -- Smart growth's urban-growth boundaries and regulation of home construction make housing unaffordable to most families. Housing in San Jose, Portland, and other smart-growth cities is far less affordable than housing in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other less-regulated cities.
  • Mobility -- Though traffic congestion costs Americans more than $60 billion a year, smart growth actually seeks to increase congestion in order to discourage people from driving.
  • Freedom -- Smart growth requires draconian restrictions on property owners and businesses. Limits on rural development, minimum-density zoning in urban areas, and strict rules for retailers and other businesses all impede economic freedom and increase costs to homebuyers and consumers.
Automobiles & the American Dream

Automobiles provide huge benefits for Americans and other societies wealthy enough to afford them. Indeed, automobility is a major reason why the United States is the wealthiest nation on earth.

The automotive revolution of the early twentieth century was arguably more important than the computer revolution of the late twentieth century. Among its benefits is the fact that autos enable workers to find better paying jobs and jobs better suited for their skills. Conversely, autos give employers access to better skilled workers. Thus, autos contributed hugely to both personal wealth and the broader distribution of wealth.

Automobiles further contributed to consumers by providing access to low-cost goods and services. Retailing concepts such as supermarkets and big-box stores could not exist without automobiles, and they have dramatically reduced consumer costs and provided people with a wider variety of goods and services. For example, when Wal-Mart opens its supercenters -- variety plus grocery stores -- in a community, the average grocery prices in that community fall by 13 percent. Even the people who don't shop at Wal-Mart benefit from its presence.

Automobiles also provide people with access to rapid-response emergency care, saving and prolonging many lives. Autos make it possible for us to visit family and friends who live at distances that, a mere century ago, would have prevented regular or even occasional visits.

Autos allow people to recreate in many otherwise inaccessible areas. In 1904, for example, Yellowstone National Park hosted fewer than 14,000 visits, or fewer thanone visit for every 6,000 Americans. By 1970, 2.3 million people visited Yellowstone, or more than one visit for every 100 Americans.

It is hard to imagine what life was like before automobiles. Despite passenger trains and streetcars, many people spent their entire lives without traveling more than a few miles from where they were born. Pioneers who did move more than a few hundred miles away from home might never see their parents or other family members again. Only the wealthiest people could afford to travel frequently by train. Farm families, particularly women, led lonely lives, rarely seeing anyone except their direct families.

Far from making us "auto dependent," as auto opponents claim, the automobile has liberated Americans, making us far more mobile than any society has ever been. In 1920, with the world's most extensive network of urban streetcar systems and intercity passenger trains, Americans traveled an average of 2,000 miles per year by transit or trains. Today, the average American travels seven times that many miles by auto. This mobility has given Americans access to far more opportunities. Moreover, it is far more evenly distributed, as 92 percent of American families today own at least one auto, while eighty years ago most people only rarely traveled by train.

In recent years, the biggest increases in driving have occurred as women and minorities have entered the work force and obtained cars. Women are more likely than men to do trip chaining, in which several errands are run on a single trip. While some auto opponents claim that people are "enslaved" to their cars, University of Arizona researcher Sandra Rosenbloom responds, "You wouldn't believe how owning their first car frees women." Social scientists say that one of the best ways to help someone out of poverty is to give them a used car; even in the most transit-intensive urban areas, free transit passes don't provide access to anywhere near as many potential jobs as an automobile.

In short, the automotive revolution played a critical role in reducing poverty, improving health care, and otherwise greatly improving the lives and lifestyles of Americas. Compared to these benefits, the costs of automobiles have been very low.

The American Dream Coalition supports automobility and all the benefits it provides. We also support an end to any subsidies to the automobile and new systems of user fees that allow people to pay the full cost of road use. In the case of areas that still have significant air pollution problems, we support experimentation with incentive-based systems of reducing automotive pollution.

Coalition Plans and Activities

One of the Coalition's first tasks will be to build this web site, which will present the Coalition's positions and provide facts about highways, congestion, transit, urban and rural land uses, air pollution, and open space. A full version of the web site, including a guide for journalists, will be available by May 1, 2003.

As funds become available, the Coalition also plans the following activities:

* Holding an annual national conference, similar to the Preserving the American Dream conference held in Washington, DC, in February, 2003;
* Helping member groups hold regional conferences or seminars;
* Providing leadership training workshops and publications;
* Providing a news service on housing, mobility, and land-use issues;
* Providing member groups with expertise, skills exchanges, and advice in dealing with land-use and transportation issues in their regions;
* Monitoring federal agency programs.

Invitation to Join

The Coalition is currently seeking members and pledges of support. Membership fees range from $25 for individuals to $250 for full group membership. We also encourage people to pledge additional support. The Coalition has been given a challenge grant, so every $2 you contribute will be joined by $1 in additional funds.

You can join the Coalition using the on-line membership form. You may also download and print out a membership brochure (296 KB pdf). More information about member groups can be found in these links.

Coalition Governance

As described in the Coalition's by laws, the Coalition will be overseen by a steering committee made up of representatives of all full group members as well as people elected by individual members. A seven-member executive committee will be elected by the steering committee to oversee month-to-month operations. Members who join by May 1, 2003, will elect the Coalition's first officers and executive committee. If you would be willing to serve on the Coalition's initial steering committee or executive committee, please make a note of it on your membership form.

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