Unlike the vacuum cleaner, the radio, or the bicycle, which retain their use value when everyone has one, the car, like a villa by the sea, is only desirable and useful insofar as the masses don’t have one. That is how in both conception and original purpose the car is a luxury good. And the essence of luxury is that it cannot be democratized. If everyone can have luxury, no one gets any advantages from it.
Gorz discusses how the promise of the car was that it would allow the driver to go faster than other road users, but once everyone could buy one, that advantage disappeared because it created traffic and slowed every car down. The car is thus a luxury good because it only works properly when few use it.
The essay is a great read, and I recommend it, because it immediately brought to mind the transport fantasies of the tech industry. Elon Musk promises that his Boring tunnels will eliminate traffic, but they’ll only work as promised if they’re restricted to him and his wealthy buddies; if everyone uses them, they’ll clog up and the speed advantage will be lost.
are only used by a small percentage of urban residents, but they’ve already created enormous problems by slowing everyone down and taking trips from transit. The solution isn’t to shift from personal ownership to on-demand when the problem is the number of cars, especially when ride-hailing trips add more travel miles because of deadheading
I could say the same of Uber’s flying cars: if everyone is using them, the skies will be filled be quasi-helicopters, eliminating the promised benefits. Plus, do we even want our skies filled with helicopters?
Tech-transport solutions are making promises they can’t keep; promises that only work if a small (well-off) percentage of residents actually use their transport fantasies. They’re making the same promise as automakers made about cars, and we need to recognize that before it’s too late.