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The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Whether it is THE busiest seems to be an open question, but certainly it is a busy time. I’d like to have readers be reminded of just how valuable roads are (and increased travel convenience in general). For example, a good body of economic research shows the reducing travel times, or increasing the amount of distance that workers can conveniently commute to work from translate into substantial economic gains to both workers and firms (for references, see the opening chapter of Randy O’Toole’s excellent, Gridlock).

Here is an interesting article from the Review of Economics and Statistics in 1994 (gated):

The Effects of Public Infrastructure and R & D Capital on the Cost Structure and Performance of U.S. Manufacturing Industries

M. Ishaq Nadiri and Theofanis P. Mamuneas
See in particular pages 34 and 35 for details. In any case, one of the important findings in that paper is that almost 1/3 of the economic growth enjoyed by the United States in the 1950s and a quarter of the economic growth enjoyed by the United States in the 1960s came from the expansion of the US highway system. It was not the jobs from building the highways, not at all, but the economic benefits that an improved transportation network has on an economy (think of the Erie Canal’s history, for example). This is one example of Tyler Cowen’s “low hanging fruit” that he advances in his recent book the Great Stagnation which offers some interesting ideas for why income gains in the US have slowed in the last 40 years. It would be interesting to see if similar slowdowns in growth occurred in other developed countries when they, too, have largely built out their basic auto infrastructures. The result is also interesting in lieu of the romanticism that is offered up for other reasons why the 1950s were such a great time in America. I’m not in the mood to start a fight with that topic, especially since tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
And while we are on the topic of Thanksgiving, for my readers who want to know a little more about me personally, Thanksgiving is both my favorite and least favorite holiday of the year. It’s my favorite for the obvious reason about what the holiday stands for (a little glimpse of that will be offered up in tomorrow’s post). But it’s my least favorite too because while I am not very close to many friends or family members, and I think I am happy with that outcome, it is a pretty stark reminder of my isolation. I have three brothers, all with children, that live out in Long Island. My parents live in western, MA (and may see my brothers for the holiday). I have a sister (married, I think) that I have not spoken to since November of 2004. I have a younger brother who lives 3,000 miles away with his wife in the mountains of Montana. Our extended family is enormous by today’s standards – and on old Thanksgivings it was not unusual to have 30 immediate family members around. I loved the noise, the chaos, the order and disorder, and zillion things going on, etc. of it all, as I am sure many of you do. That is what holidays like Thanksgivings are supposed to be about. So what if I am not an important part of any of those lives, being a part of a day like that is a little like being in a big city on a busy, bustling day. And I miss it. Readers may wonder why I simply don’t insert myself into that big, bustling, “city” – no reason to bore you with my story, I am sure you all have your own anyway.

The point of course is that I wished I were in my car on this day too, traveling to see my brothers and nieces and nephews – but driving 7 hours (with traffic) from Rochester to Massapequa is not in the cards.

6 Responses to “Black Wednesday – or In Praise of the Car”

  1. Mike says:

    Well, since I’m on my way from Pune to Bangalore, where I am certain I won’t see anything remotely like a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. And my wife and children are in Dallas. I have only one thing to say: get your ass in the car! It’s not too late.

  2. jb says:

    The world has changed yes and I too am nostalgic for the Thanksgivings I remember as a kid, they were much like yours. Alas it will be just our immediate family here, though I am thankful for that. One must look on the bright side. We can now communicate like this. Let’s face it, 20 years ago had you left western mass we would probably never have heard from one another ever again. You have tons of friends out “here” and I am ever so thankful for your blog. Happy Turkey day to you and your family and to all of the “regulars” who frequent this site.

  3. Rod says:

    Geeze, Wintercow! It’s seven (7) hours from Rochester to western Massachusetts? Are you one of those slowpokes driving the speed limit in the left lane?

    My late wife’s family lived in Mayfield, NY, on the Sacandaga Reservoir, in snow country. My brother-in-law lived in Buffalo for a while, so at that time we were both 300 miles from Mayfield. My trip up there took five hours with holiday traffic via Route US 209 through the Catskills, but my bro in law just had the Thruway to contend with, so you’d think the trip would be quicker for him. He, however, was one of those drivers in the left lane going 65 (or slower, if he got distracted by something). He even drove 55 when the speed limit was lowered by the Nixonians. You need to get a radar detector, Wintercow, and step on it.

    The record time from my house to my parents-in-law was 3 hours 45 minutes, in my Camaro on Christmas Eve. From midnight to quarter of four, I was one of just a few dozen cars on the road, and I had to slow down just once for a New York State Trooper who must have been going over 120 when he passed me. No snow, moonlit night.

    I, too, have special fond memories of Thanksgiving when I was a kid. My Aunt Cora would knock herself out with a perfect meal, and everybody behaved themselves. When I got a little older, our family would play golf in the morning, as my aunt was taking care of the cooking.

    When I got married, however, I had to divide my holidays with two families, so I could only attend Aunt Cora’s extravaganza on alternate years. The good thing was that my parents-in-law were always the hosts of that extended family’s holiday celebrations. Instead of golf, I often got to ski in Western Mass on the day before and the day after.

    Tomorrow we go to my wife’s son’s in-laws house in Bedford, NY. I think George Soros’s property abuts theirs in the back yard. I imagine Soros celebrates Thanksgiving by collapsing some country’s currency and by taking a swim in his Money Bin, like Scrooge McDuck.

  4. Harry says:

    Rod derves a pass if he mistook Massapequa for Massachussets. He has traveled much more than I north of Wilkes Barre, as long as you do not count Erie, Cleveland, and Chicago.

    That was an eloquent piece, Wintercow.

  5. […] Black Wednesday – or In Praise of the Car […]

  6. chuck martel says:

    The automobile and the huge infrastructure, both physical and administrative, that have developed with it are very much of a mixed blessing. Accepting the car and its convenience has meant the simultaneous acceptance of a huge portion of wealth being devoted to highways, parking and the cars themselves, with their up-front costs, maintenance, etc. and the state’s regulation of their construction and use, vehicle and driver licensing. A tremendous portion of the country’s most valuable arable land has been paved over. Enormous resources have been devoted to insuring that cars can move freely from point A to point B at any time of day or night. Anyone now operating a motor vehicle has what amounts to a national identification card screwed to the back bumper. The state asserts, and mindless dolts parrot, that driving, moving from one place to another by mechanized means, is a PRIVILEGE to be granted or withheld by the all-powerful state. In fact, the automobile has been one of the most significant factors in the growth of the power of that state. We’ve paid a dear price for our mobility.

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