Chinese want wheels

Scripps Howard: The judgmental cliche "America's love affair with the automobile" implies a national character defect as if our embrace of the private automobile is somehow selfish and materialistic.
Then recall how a few decades ago our far left embraced Chairman Mao, his little red book and that stupid cap. Mao's rule was praised for its discipline, austerity and the perceived willingness -- from a safe distance, mind you -- of its people to reject Western decadence. Chinese cities were known for their eerie quiet; no private cars, everybody walked or biked.
We know now that the reason the Chinese people were willing to do without and to turn out in the hundreds of thousands to chant idiotic slogans was because Mao had killed about 30 million of them.
With Mao and his brand of communism gone, the Chinese stampeded to embrace worldly goods and especially the car. Thus, The New York Times reports, the residents of Shanghai "have displayed an American-style passion for the automobile." Despite the predictable results -- unmanageable gridlock, pollution, stress, and marathon commutes -- "nothing seems capable of stopping, or even slowing, the rapid rise of a car culture."
Central planning
Big government types are prone to envy socialist and communist governments for their latitude in implementing massive projects without a lot of guff from the common people. Central planning. That's what communist governments do, issue central plans. Typically they don't work, and the one for Shanghai traffic -- plenty of new highways and an extensive new subway system -- didn't either. The Times said the plan was predicated on reaching a threshold of 2 million cars by 2020; the level was reached last fall.
In a sort of 'where have we heard that before' moment, the Times said the Chinese equate owning a car with "personal freedom, prestige and success." Go figure.

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