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How long will the rich be willing to share the roads with the poor?

How long will the rich be willing to share the roads with the poor? thumbnail


In Ray Bradbury novel “Fahrenheit 451” we are told of a world with no private cars (above, a still from the 1966 movie by François Truffaut). Bradbury had correctly understood that dictatorships not only tend to burn books but also don’t like their citizens to own private cars. In this post, I argue that the growing social inequality in the West may soon lead to the demise of the private car for the middle class. This evolution may be helped by such concepts as TAAS (transportation as a service). 

In his “The Betrothed”, (1827) Alessandro Manzoni tells us of how a dispute on the right of the way led to a bloody duel between two noblemen. The story takes place during the 17th century and it seems that, at that time, whether one should cede the way to another was a question of rank.

Of course, in our (perhaps) enlightened times, this attitude looks absurd. When you see a stop sign at a crossroad, you are supposed to respect it, independently of whether you drive a rusty Toyota Corolla or a shiny Porsche Cayenne. But, if you think about that, the rich must be very unhappy about having to share the road with all those poor people with their clunkers. They might well be thinking of ways to have the street all for themselves, avoid traffic jams, and regain the mobility that cars provided when there weren’t so many of them.

Is it possible? Well, think of this: the diffusion of private cars in the Western World, and in particular in the US, took place during a period when inequality was declining and reaching values which were possibly the lowest in modern history. But things have changed a lot since then. Here are some data for the Gini Index in the US (from the US Census Bureau)

The Gini index is a measure of the income distribution: it is between a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 1, but in practice, it is between 0.2 and 0.7. The larger the Gini index is, the higher is inequality. And you see how, during the past decades, inequality in the US has been increasing. Similar trends can be seen in other Western countries.
So, the concept of “public roads” for everyone was developed in a historical period when the Gini index in the US was around 0.35. Today it is around 0.45. That’s a very significant variation which is surely destined to have important social consequences. I was telling you before that in Italy during the 17th century, the right of way was determined by one’s social status rather than by “Stop” signs at crossroads. So, what was the Gini index, then? We don’t have values for Italy but, according to Ourworldindata, the Gini index in England was of the order of 0.5 in the 18th century, close to the current value of 0.45 for the US. Just like the nobles of that time, our modern nobles may well think that there is no reason for them to share the road with the commoners. So, what may happen?
For one thing, the concept of “public road” is being eroded in various ways. In the US it is done under the name of “gated communities” whereas in Europe you see entire sections of cities declared off-limits to cars by local governments unless you are a resident. Another way to expel the poor from the street is to make cars or fuel very expensive, that can be done by means of taxes. Increased costs may have already reduced traffic in some regions of the world. In Italy, the consumption of gasoline is down to nearly half of what it was ten years ago. But in the US, the situation is far less dramatic. Other regions of the world show intermediate trends.
On the whole, private cars are not growing in numbers, but they are not disappearing, either. There are good reasons for this.
The problem is clear: there is no way that you can serve this kind of urban environment with conventional public transportation, buses or trains, at a reasonable cost. And, of course, the people living there have no place where they can go on foot. So, they will try everything they can to stick to their cars. It is the only way they have to survive.
A further, and somewhat perverse, characteristic of private cars is the fact that they have a considerable capital cost. So, once you made the effort of buying one, driving an extra mile (the “marginal mile”) is not so expensive. Actually, the more miles you drive, the less each mile will cost and this is an incentive to drive more.
So, it looks like a no-win situation for the rich, unless they really want to create a zombie apocalypse in order to expel the poor from the roads. But there is another possibility: it is called “Transportation as a service” (TAAS). This is basically a hi-tech rental service. The idea is that you don’t own a car anymore, but you rent it as you need. Theoretically, TAAS should be less expensive than the current scheme because you share the same car with other people. And middle-class suburbanites should be happy to use TAAS.
But, as it often happens, technological changes bring about unexpected social changes. With TAAS, you don’t have anymore the “marginal mile” effect, so that in order to save money you have only one strategy: cut the number of miles traveled. With the current trends of rising inequality and impoverishment, suburbanites will be forced to cut all the non-strictly needed trips – reducing the total number of miles they travel.
Note also that the concept of TAAS allows differential tariffs leading to the possibility of a control of the traffic flow unthinkable today. Want to use TAAS during the rush hour? You are welcome, but you must pay more. Want to drive in a posh shopping area? Again, you are welcome, but you have to pay for the privilege. Want to go to the beach this Sunday? You know what you have to do. But, in exchange, we can offer you a special TAAS deal if you go shopping at the supermarket tonight at 3:00 am.
In the end, TAAS may well sweep the poor out of the public roads even faster than the current trends are doing. Will we arrive at a point when priority at crossroads will be determined by the social status of drivers, as it was in the 17th century? We cannot say, but TAAS vehicles could be programmed to behave exactly in this way. All traffic lights may be green for those who can pay for that.
Of course, this is not a fault of the TAAS scheme in itself. Transportation as a service is a good idea that should bring us a more efficient transportation, less noise, and less pollution. The problem it is the result of the increasing inequality in society which, in turn, is related to the gradual disappearance of our energy slaves, fossil fuels. If we don’t find a way to replace fossil fuels with something equivalent to power our society, we will return to the kind of world that Manzoni described to us. A world where you could be killed because someone thought he was nobler than you and wanted the right of way.
Below: an illustration of Manzoni’s novel “The Betrothed”
 Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

45 Comments on "How long will the rich be willing to share the roads with the poor?"

  1. asg70 on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 1:45 pm 

    “Transportation as a service is a good idea that should bring us a more efficient transportation”

    End of story. Leave the dystopia talk to the tinfoil-hatters.

  2. Davy on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 1:53 pm 

    What may be ahead is a dramatically extreme world of haves and have nots at least while society lasts. It is unclear how much social extremes modernism can manage. How do you turn large parts of populations into serfs? You do it when forced into doing it. Parts of the world will be triaged off modernism. Within those areas where modernism remains classes of people will be effectively disenfranchised. I am not saying this will happen necessarily. If it happens how extreme will it be? It is already happening in a creeping stealth kind of way with wealth transfer and price privilege in things like education and healthcare. When one realizes what happens in decline with decay, depletion, and dysfunction then you realize there will be economic abandonment. In this economic abandonment there will be people’s lives also. We may be heading for an extreme two class society maybe enforced by threat of violence from authorities whose values will no longer be democratic. Democracy is a luxury in a world in overshoot with consumption and population.

  3. Sissyfuss on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 1:54 pm 

    Finish the paragraph, IQ70.

  4. Cloggie on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 3:07 pm 

    The effective way to ban the hoi polloi from the road is already in place in France and Italy: toll roads. In contrast to the free but congested German, Dutch and Belgian ones, the French auto routes are designed to get somewhere quick… at a fee.

  5. Cloggie on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 3:12 pm 

    You don’t want to know what “taas” means in Dutch.

  6. Outcast_Searcher on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 3:26 pm 

    When US taxpayers aren’t paying roughly $ a TRILLION annually for about 100 anti-poverty programs, AND there aren’t widespread state and local programs designed to provide various assistance to the poor, THEN is might make sense to contemplate dystopian ideas like this.

    Or even when there are no buses, bikes aren’t allowed (much less encouraged with bike lanes becoming more common all over the place, etc).

    Oh, and let’s not forget the massive amount of total charitable programs aimed at the poor.

    Apparently at a time when the global economy and US economy is picking up serious steam, the fast crash doom community needs to make more stuff up to try and make their case.

  7. Davy on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 3:48 pm 

    OS, I see the markets picking up serious steam. Do you think that is a good thing? You cornucopians are making things up too so be honest.

  8. Boat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 3:59 pm 

    Who would want to share a car with another. You want more room on the roads? End immigration and quit giving out tax breaks for kids. Less population density helps. Get 30 miles outside of Houston and the traffic thins. Lol

  9. Boat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 4:04 pm 


    The economy improving just shows you how wrong you have been for years about a collaspe. Short is next on the no collaspe list. Not happening by the end of this year as his prediction.

  10. JuanP on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 4:35 pm 

    Here in Florida we have had toll roads, highways, lanes, and bridges for many years. If you drive on I-95 you can drive on the free lanes or go faster on the paid ones. You can pay and take the Florida Turnpike to Orlando or take a free road and waste an hour. When I am alone in the car I refuse to use the paid lanes and roads as a matter of principle, but I do use them when I am driving my wife or someone else. This is constantly getting worse.

  11. Davy on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 4:42 pm 

    Come on boat, how good is the economy? Are you an expert? Plenty of data both ways. You are a hopeless cornucopian living in your little fantasy world of Houston. That is not a very good place to be if SHTF so I understand your cockiness of denial. Plus I don’t think you have much of a business and economics background. A good businessman is always weary of the economy with balls of steel to keep trudging on through the mine field of dangers.

  12. Antius on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 6:12 pm 

    Collapse is a gradual process. This article is quite old now, but the point of it is that collapse takes decades, usually more than a human lifetime.

  13. Mad Kat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 6:17 pm 

    “How long will the rich be willing to share the roads with the poor?”

    Perhaps the question should be? “How long will the poor allow the rich to live? I see that as the future, not the above scenario.

    As for cars and the kind of burbs hive living in the picture, that is going to be history and most of those stick boxes will be gone by 2100. Piles of rotting trash, over-grown by Mother Nature. When the roof goes, the rest will follow quickly, and most roofing materials are only good for 20 or so years.

    BTW: How can they be replaced after oil goes away? Most are asphalt shingles. Barrels of oil in a different form. lol

  14. asg70 on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 6:23 pm 

    Lots of wishful thinking with the doomers here as usual, but light on actual data to support said predictions.

  15. Mad Kat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 6:52 pm 

    asg70, the ‘proof’ is just outside your window, if you want to see it. Most don’t. Dates are slippery, but the end is fixed. Be patient.

  16. Mad Kat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 7:35 pm 

    “Round Ups, Checkpoints and National ID Cards”

    “Here in Amerika, things are getting worse—not better—as the nation inches ever closer towards totalitarianism, that goose-stepping form of tyranny in which the government has all of the power and “we the people” have none.”

    Third World America…

  17. Sissyfuss on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 8:22 pm 

    Kat, that article merely underlines the thesis that democracy cannot survive overpopulation. As LTG settles in you will see surveillance become commonplace in every public place imaginable. Oh, wait. We already got that.

  18. Boat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 8:45 pm 


    I follow energy. The US has an advantage with most of the world with cheap nat gas, coal and even oil compared to Japan, EU, China and other developed and developing countries. We have an educated workforce. Not great but doable is our rule of law. We have not had wars on our land for over 100 years. We vote every 4 years and make a peacefull transfer of power. If you work you can make a living in all 50 states. If like individual indepandance it’s a great place to live. As someone who enjoyed playing sports and watching them there is no place better. You can find most products from the world within a short drive if you are near a city. Amazon will ship about anywhere. What is not to like.

  19. Boat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 8:50 pm 

    Unlike you I believe any dumbass can look around the world and see these obvious advantages. You want an expert? Lol your a silly man.

  20. Sissyfuss on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 9:10 pm 

    Any dumbass can spell “you’re” correctly also, Boast. But don’t let Greg and I feed into your paranoia. We’re just trying to help out a misfortunate.

  21. Boat on Tue, 23rd Jan 2018 9:19 pm 

    No crash, np, fussy. Doom away at yourn pleasure. Btw I support gays because they add no population. They call that all gas and no shyt. Your welcome.

  22. Simon on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 2:18 am 

    From a Paris Taxi Driver.

    ‘If a self driving car takes my fare, we will simply burn them F$ck Tesla, F%ck Google, F%ck Uber’

    Its gonna be fun to watch the pretty fires

  23. Davy on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 6:06 am 

    There is much to like about the US. I am happy and most people I know are. The anti-Americans are extremist cherry picking the bad. No nations scrutinizes itself more than the US. No nations is under the microscope like the US globally. This is part of being a great power and a great power in decline. Internally there is great debate and still functioning free speech. All that is under siege though and the economy is in decline but with growth. This is the key to the great debate of decline or growth. They are both present. We are not in a deep crisis yet. It is not all bad and to say it is then is just more of the same denial as saying it is all good.

    These forces of growth and decline are in an undulating plateau. The most noticeable aspect of decline is with the systematic nature of finance and business with individuals and corporations and revolves around debt. We are living beyond our means and cashing in our savings represented as a future. We are in reality living as if there is no future. You see this clearly with governments with debt and unfunded liabilities. Culture are drifting from sound values into a muck of relativity that comes from thrill seeking. Yet, this culture is also questioning itself and trying to change. This process is also present the world over. There is no way to be an extremist in this situation. Extremism on either side can be proven wrong easily in this situation.

    What I am saying is the whole world is in a stealth decline. It is in the social narrative itself. We are telling ourselves everything is fine through a false prosperity of malinvestment in a future with no future. We are using techno optimism and the car culture mentality of consumerism to force a prosperity that is not sustainable. We are not calling into question enough what we are doing except on the fringe. The mainstream is still locked in denial. Questions against growth and development are considered fringe and nutter. We are doubling down on techno optimism as our salvation to everything. We think more efficiency or a different energy source is going to change the many predicaments. In many cases people just don’t have the time or education to explore the questions of decay and decline. People have to work and take care of responsibilities. The world is still functioning so why bother.

    A lucky few like me are semi-retired and can spend the time to research this existential decline. This decline is stealthy and a mix of short and long term forces. It is class focused. The poor and lower middle class are taking it on the chin these days. The poor the world over have stalled in their sustainable development that was working for a few decades. The rich are doing better than ever but nervous. We are definitely in systematic and ecological decline. We also have the growth and development that is amazing. We have different aspects of this same process going on in every nation and region because of comparative advantage of globalism. The world is now specialized but homogenized.

    Mix all this together and what do you get? That is a good question. It often depends on if you are an agenda peddler, political hack, or just an honest observer of civilization. If you cherry pick this story of man you can find good and bad all day long. If you try to weigh and balance all this it becomes a lifelong project.

    My point as a doomer is not that we are going to collapse tomorrow it is the process itself and the different scenarios and variables. We could collapse tomorrow or have decades. Some locations and individuals will collapse and others will grow through this process. This academic struggle is telling me you can’t say we will not collapse tomorrow. The future is unknown with how long we can go on but it can go on and is going on. I firmly believe we are a late term civilization with an end time and we are now in the end of the beginning of that collapse. Just a few years ago our current financial situation and energy situation looked much more dangerous than it is now. The energy situation is much brighter but climate change outlook much worse. Today I am more optimistic for a continuation of civilization for a decade or two but my doom for an end game has not changed.

    Some of you want to say I am here too much but I would have to say if you treat doom academically and as a life passion complete with the life style then you study life daily for the answers. I would also tell those who delve in doom to treat it academically or it will cause you to be depressed. Those who check into doom to try to negate doom are going to be disappointed. You cannot deny the variables of doom and many have personality issues because of it. Society tells us all is well but it is not. This causes neurosis and personality dysfunctions.

  24. Hello on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 6:07 am 

    >>> If a self driving car takes my fare, we will simply burn them F$ck Tesla

    Funny how history repeats. In the beginnings of Switzerland’s industrialization the farmers burnt down garment factories because it threatened the business of “home made garments”.

  25. Hello on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 6:15 am 

    >>>> The anti-Americans are extremist cherry picking the bad.

    The funny thing though is europeans. They are at the forefront of bashing the US, yet follow right into their footsteps with any societal development. Always about 10 or 20 years behind, always complaining and mocking, but following right along.

  26. deadly on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 6:26 am 

    The rich elites will have to share the roads with the poor slobs with nothing.

    Who will pick up all of the trash the elites throw out the windows of their stretched limos?

    The poor.

    The poor stupid slobs who can’t read the writing on the wall will be picking up the trash.

    Also, their pockets will be full of 20d nails to throw out onto the paved super highway for the super rich.

  27. Davy on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 7:07 am 

    “The rich elites will have to share the roads with the poor slobs with nothing.”

    There is not enough rich elites to matter and their power is really an illusion. Real power is what you directly control. Sure the supper rich have an abstract control over vast empires but this could evaporate immediately in a crisis. Real wealth is local and controllable. The real fight will come in the local between the richer and poorer once globalism dissolves. We want to point fingers at the very rich because they allow a degree of fantasy in this drama. This scales up to nations too. Nations will battle for the spoils of globalism. The fight will start there and descend into the local.

  28. Boat on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 10:13 am 


    I work out a few times a week at a large gym. You want to talk multiculture just look around. Most days there are over 100 humans during any part of the day a the place is never empty 34/7. Just smiles grunts and sweat. No problems, no arguments, 90% if anything are very polite. Anti US folks dont see this side of America. The masses just doing their thing.

  29. GregT on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:24 am 

    “Most days there are over 100 humans during any part of the day a the place is never empty 34/7. Just smiles grunts and sweat.”

    “Anti US folks dont see this side of America.”

    That doesn’t exactly paint a great picture Boat. Just saying…….

  30. Boat on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:46 am 


    A few of those women are 10’s if you like to people watch. Working out is much tougher than work except for ac. As you recover from machine to machine there is some mutual empathy shared for how hard it is to stay in shape. Hey, beats chopping wood.

  31. Davy on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:50 am 

    “Hey, beats chopping wood.”

    I work out and chop wood. Thats a winner.

  32. DerHundistlos on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 12:34 pm 

    @ Siss

    I would like to ask you some questions outside of this blog. I would gladly provide you with my contact information here, but I don’t wish to be bothered by cranks. Any suggestions how I can transmit to you my info.?

  33. DerHundistlos on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 1:19 pm 

    This just released……

    Humans Extinct in 9 Years Based on New Analysis:

  34. Mad Kat on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 5:51 pm 

    “About 22% of children in the U.S. lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared with 18% in 2008,”

    “According to the Census Bureau, 18.5 million people reported deep poverty, which means a household income below 50 percent of their 2016 poverty threshold.”

    Over 25 million households in the US lived on less then $25,000 per year in 2016. That is about 20% of the total households.

    Slip slidin;’ to the 3rd world.

  35. Antius on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 6:46 pm 

    Great article on Zero Hedge. Socialism is a neurosis and is symptomatic of mental illness.

    So there you have it and it is hard to deny. The moral absolutism and inability to compromise are also symptomatic of mental illness. The Western world has been undermined and ruined by nothing other than the sickness of our own minds. In spite of the enormous damage these people have done, we should pity rather than resent them. But we need to learn to recognise Socialist thought patterns in individuals long before they achieve any kind of authority. These people can then undergo treatment and hopefully lead happy and productive lives.

  36. Mad Kat on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 8:23 pm 

    “One of the great myths of our time is that America is a capitalistic country. It is not, and has not been close to capitalistic for more than 150 years.”

    Whatever it is called, it needs to go.

  37. GregT on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 8:35 pm 


    “A few of those women are 10’s if you like to people watch.”

    My daughter says that you’re creepy. Young women aren’t normally overly fond about being ‘watched’ by elderly men.

  38. Mad Kat on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 9:46 pm 

    “Here in Amerika, things are getting worse – not better – as the nation inches ever closer towards totalitarianism, that goose-stepping form of tyranny in which the government has all of the power and “we the people” have none….

    Eventually, when the police state has turned that final screw and slammed that final door, all that will matter is whether some government agent—poorly trained, utterly ignorant of the Constitution, way too hyped up on the power of their badges, and authorized to detain, search, interrogate, threaten and generally harass anyone they see fit—chooses to single you out for special treatment.”

    Slip slidin’ to the 3rd world…

  39. Sissyfuss on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:00 pm 

    Can’t really say, Der. I wouldn’t like to put my personal info out into the Cloud for the trolls to partake of. Wouldn’t waste yours exposed either. Perhaps someone here can suggest a clandestine method we could try.

  40. Sissyfuss on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:00 pm 

    Waste not, wasn’t was.

  41. Sissyfuss on Wed, 24th Jan 2018 11:03 pm 

    Waste not, want was. Autocorrect is so arrogant to think it knows better than I what I want to say. Can’t wait for AI to tell me what I think.

  42. Davy on Thu, 25th Jan 2018 4:35 am 

    “One of the great myths of our time is that America is a capitalistic country. It is not, and has not been close to capitalistic for more than 150 years.”

    Rubbish, it is more capitalistic than most.

  43. Davy on Thu, 25th Jan 2018 4:37 am 

    “goose-stepping form of tyranny in which the government has all of the power and “we the people” have none….”

    You mean like the China you admire so much?

  44. Mad Kat on Thu, 25th Jan 2018 4:47 am 

    Davy, so a degree of slavery is better than freedom? “Rubbish, it is more capitalistic than most.”

    You are in deep denial if you believe that you are not as much as, or even more controlled by your government than the Chinese. You break laws every day and have big brother watching you wipe when you shit. Get over your Sinophobia. They are the coming world power as the US declines into a 3rd world, corrupt police state, faster and faster every day.

  45. Davy on Thu, 25th Jan 2018 5:42 am 

    “You are in deep denial if you believe that you are not as much as, or even more controlled by your government than the Chinese.”
    You are peddling a lame agenda mad kat. China is the worst major power in the world for all manner of controls.

    “You break laws every day and have big brother watching you wipe when you shit.”
    How do you know what I do mad kat? I am wondering why you left the US in such a hurry with only 2 suit cases. Do you embezzle the Mormon Church?

    “Get over your Sinophobia.”
    Mad kat, my sinophobia is balance to you anti-American agenda peddling, IOW, you are being neutered with balancing moderation. This is your problem with your extremism. Extremism is easy to neuter. Most often it is little more than a dumbass with lives in a glass house throwing stones. Obviously it is working because I constantly shoot your narrative down.

    “They are the coming world power as the US declines into a 3rd world, corrupt police state, faster and faster every day.”
    They are a world power mad kat, but one of several. It is a multipolar world. China is the most fragile of world powers with its fiscal situation and social time bomb of a large population subjected to a financial slowdown. If China blows up it will take the world economy with it. That’s balance mad kat you should learn from.

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