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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Celebrating America’s Love for Cars

Trunk-or-treating has become the latest trend in American Halloween celebrations, as a lot of Americans have opted for a car-based version instead of the traditional door-to-door activity. This transition simply underlines just how deeply ingrained cars are in American culture. With an average of two vehicles per household, America is, by far, more car-reliant than any other major country. This reliance on cars is often associated with various problems such as obesity, pollution, and suburban sprawl. Despite these drawbacks, more and more Americans are choosing to live in the suburbs, with over half the population now based there. So, what makes cars such a crucial part of suburban living?

Well, convenience is definitely a factor. American cities have been designed to accommodate vehicles, starting from the advent of the Model T in the 1920s. This has resulted in wide roads, plentiful access to expressways, and ample parking throughout the country. Consequently, America outpaces other wealthy countries when it comes to road speeds. The speed and accessibility of American roads contribute to the efficiency and equity of American suburbs and smaller towns.

The car’s ubiquity not only makes it easier to get into city centers, but also makes it easier to get out of them. This phenomenon has made larger homes and quieter streets more accessible to a broader cross-section of the country. Despite the many advantages of cars, it’s important to recognize that owning or renting a car is quite a financial burden, especially for the working poor. There are also concerns about the state of mass transit in American cities although, surprisingly, public-transit options between distant suburbia and city centers are quite comparable in America and Europe.

While it may be possible to envision an America that is less reliant on cars, the recent lifestyle changes brought on by Covid-19 might actually favor vehicles. With people working remotely and venturing into offices less frequently, demand and revenues for public transit have decreased, while roads have become less congested and more pleasant for drivers. This might lead to an increasing reliance on cars, especially for families living in the suburbs.

The message is clear: cars are deeply ingrained in American life. Despite the potential for change, it seems probable that trunk-or-treating and other car-related activities are here to stay. America’s love affair with cars is a complex and multifaceted issue that has shaped the nation’s infrastructure, culture, and way of life.

Want to read more on economics? Check out our column exploring the Middle East’s economy, Israel’s war economy, and the impact of Amazon and Google on competition. And for more expert analysis of the biggest stories in economics, finance, and markets, sign up for our weekly subscriber-only newsletter, Money Talks.

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