Most everyone has looked down at the fuel gauge and suddenly realized the tank is very close to empty. Maybe it is the idiot light going on as you pass the sign that reads “last stop for food or fuel for X miles.” The worst one is when this happens in a rural area or at night. The prospect of being stranded on the side of the road for a very long time quickly crowds out other thoughts. It is a terrible feeling. Almost all of us are conditioned to make sure this never happens.
Running out of gas used to be a common thing in America. In the early days of the automobile, care did not have a gas gauge and gas stations did not always have gas, so it was a common scene. The first “gas gauge” was a marked stick the driver would stick into the tank. Until very recent, gas stations used this method to test how much water was in their tanks. Eventually, more sophisticated solutions were invented and then manufacturers install them at the factory.
Running out of gas is not very common these days. For starters, we have gas stations everywhere people live. They are about 120-thousand gas stations in America. If you live in an urban or suburban area, finding a gas station is not a challenge. The cars are also vastly more efficient today than the old days. Even sports cars get over 20 miles per gallon, so when the light comes on, you have about 40 miles to find gas. It is why it is very rare to see someone walking down the road with a gas can.
This old concern will become a feature of life shortly. Every car maker is determined to abandon the internal combustion engine for electric in the next decade. All of them have a five year plan to ditch the IC engine. Even the sports car makers are planning to drop the old engine and use electric motors. The roar of the engine will soon be replaced by the high pitched hum of the motor. Whether we wanted or not, the electric car will be forced onto American roads over the next decade.
The problem is that electric cars need to be charged. Right now, there are about five thousand fast chargers in America. The term “fast charger” is a little bit of inside humor the EV people enjoy. It takes about forty minutes to charge a car on a fast charger, so the word fast here is sarcasm. There are more slow chargers available, but slow should be interpreted as glacial. Those slow chargers take hours to charge. They are only useful as at-home options or at office parks.
Replacing the gas stations with fast chargers is no easy task. There is the cost, obviously, even if one assumes they could be profitable. That is not an assumption you can make at this point. The economics of EV charging stations are wildly different than those of a normal gas station. You do not need a lot of space for cars pulling into the pumps, fueling up in five minutes and then pulling away. You need vast spaces for cars pulling in and parking for an hour as they charge up the batteries.
Then there is the power grid. The current estimates say the cost to upgrade the power grid for electric cars is between four and ten trillion dollars. That is not money to be spent all at once, but it is real money. In modern America, most streets look like the surface of the moon and our bridges are literally collapsing. Like all aging empires, America is struggling to keep the plates spinning. How realistic is it to think we can upgrade the power grid over the next decade for electric cars?
Like the automobile makers, the nation’s utility companies have five and ten year plans for upgrading their part of the power grid. One cannot help but appreciate the Gosplan nature of this project. Like the car maker’s five year plans, the utility company plans always has a line in there for free money from the Federal Reserve. Unlike the car makers, the electric companies have not secured their free money. Slipping tax breaks into the code is a lot easier than printing trillions of dollars.
As with the Soviets, the central planners in America just assume whatever they dream can become a reality. The Soviets were sure they could find the right math to replace the role of prices in the market. Once they conquered that problem, the system would literally run itself. American central planners are sure they can find the right moral language to make their dreams pop into existence. If electric cars become who we are then all of the problems will solve themselves.
The electric car fetish is a good example of how markets are an illusion, at least in the broad sense the Austrian school economists argued. There never was a market for electric cars and there is not one now, at least in the organic sense. Instead, the market has been manufactured by government policy. Massive subsidies to the production side and subsidies to the demand side have created the market. Take those away and Elon Musk is back selling monorails to midsized cities.
It is also a good example of how elites have the dominant role in society. As with other things like immigration and the Covid panic, your opinion is never solicited, and it is never wanted. These are decisions made by a small cluster of policy makers at secret retreats and over cocktails at parties you will never attend. The American elite has decided the electric car is the future, so that is that. The fact that it could turn out to be another disaster like Covid is not a worry.
The argument against central planning has always been a simple one. It is impossible for the planners to account for all of the variables. Even the most basic of human systems is maddeningly complex. The truth of this is never a deterrent to the elites, especially those who are sure they are on the right side of history. The comically insane outcomes from the Soviet system never deterred the planners. The metric system did not teach American elites a lesson either.
Finally, the electric car fetish is a good example of what happens when an elite class enters into decline. They become rapacious and impractical. On the one hand, they seek to enrich themselves as quickly as possible, because no one in the elite feels a loyalty to the elite class or the society over which they rule. Everything becomes a smash and grab. On the other hand, they have become so insulated from the society over which they rule, they can no longer see their own folly.
America probably needs to spend five trillion over the next ten years to get the infrastructure back to first world standards. We need a Marshall plan for the roads, bridges, and utility systems. An aspiring elite would focus on that, rather than frivolous nonsense like electric cars. It would also be more scrupulous about who gets the money for the projects. That is not the future. Instead, it will be abandoned EV’s next to massive potholes and collapsing bridges.
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