Eric Peters: How Government Ruined Cars
By - March 27, 2016

Eric Peters started out writing about cars for mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Times, Detroit News and Free Press, Investors Business Daily, The American Spectator, National Review, The Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal.  At some point, it occurred to him that cars – and of course, motorcycles – represent freedom, but that the freedom to drive (and freedom to drive what you wanted to drive) was being systematically destroyed. His books include “Road Hogs” (2011) and  “Automotive Atrocities” (2004).

The Daily Bell: Tell us some more about your background, why you decided to be a writer and what got your involved with libertarianism.

Eric Peters: I grew up within the shadow of the Heart of Darkness (DC) and notwithstanding that, developed an early dislike for this idea that my life – that anyone’s life – should be controlled by random strangers in a far away city. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Early on, I read – and loved – books by Dumas and Cooper and (later) Mencken and Thompson and also brilliant sci-fi writers like Heinlein and Dick, whose works are extremely pro-individual in that the are profoundly anti-coercive. Their prose style and  their humanity appealed to me greatly.

So, English, literature, history and philosophy.

I fell into journalism almost by default. First news, then editorial writing.

My other love from a young age was – still is – mechanical things. I enjoyed taking things apart, learning how they worked.  This led to working on cars (and motorcycles).

The Daily Bell: Which led to automotive journalism.

Eric Peters: Right. Cars are highly individual. To go where you like, how and when you like. It is why Americans had a love affair with cars. It occurred to me that this love – and the philosophy of the individual contra the collective was a place to hang my hat on, so to speak. A way to write about the two things I have a great  passion for – individual liberty and motor vehicles.

The Daily Bell: Are you an anarchist? Are you an Austrian?

Eric Peters: I describe myself as a libertarian because, for me, the guiding moral principle of human society (human interaction) ought to be the nom-aggression principle. The idea that no one has the right to initiate coercion (actual or threatened) against another person, ever. Put another way, the only legitimate use of force is defensive force against an actual first-use of force.

So, I believe the individual has an absolute right to be left in peace (not harmed or threatened with harm) so long as he himself is peaceful.

Politically, this means self-government rather than government.

In economics, it means exchanges must be voluntary and mutually agreeable.

Some may accuse me of utopianism. But they are just as guilty of this, in that government is presumed (by statists) to be capable of and competent to fix all human problems, which is obvious nonsense. If individuals are flawed and prone to making poor decisions, how is it that individuals who become government officials are immune from these defects?

Put another way, an individual is only capable of doing so much harm, no matter how despicable he may be. But government is fully capable of mass murder and oppression on an industrial scale.

The Daily Bell: How did you begin writing for LewRockwell?

Eric Peters: I’ve known Lew since my days as an editorial writer at The Washington Times, back in the ’90s. Lew has always been a supporter of my work, and of EPautos.com – the web site I launched a few years back to house all my stuff in one, easily accessible place.

The Daily Bell: It’s so clever to combine cars with free-market commentary. Give us your background with cars. When did you first own a car? Do you know how to fix them?

Eric Peters: I was gravitationally attracted to cars at a very young age. I was lucky enough to have been a kid in the ’70s, when cars were much more individualistic than they are now (because government micromanagement of the car industry was negligible then relative to now). They were sexy, flashy, sometimes odd – always interesting.

The Daily Bell: And, accessible.

Eric Peters: Sure. As a Gen X high schooler, I and my friends spent afternoons and weekends wrenching on our muscle cars, cruising on Saturday nights.. it was very much a latter-day version of American Graffiti.

I never gave that up. One of my great diversions continues to be working on cars (and bikes). Especially older stuff, which has style and personality the new stuff lacks.

The Daily Bell: What do you do for living besides write? Do you run a car-related enterprise?

Eric Peters: I write. The rest is entirely for fun.

The Daily Bell: You make many good points about the auto business. What’s the main issue with cars right now? What bothers you the most in terms of what the industry could be and is not.

Eric Peters: The thing I hindmost objectionable is this idea – accepted by most people, which I find bizarre – that the government should be dictating vehicle design, which it does (effectively) by issuing mandates relating to “safety” and so on. My “safety” is no one’s business but my own, just as yours is yours.

So, as an example, if you want air bags, you have every right to buy them. But you have no right to force me to buy them.

This doesn’t mean there would be “unsafe” cars on the road. It means people would be free to purchase the cars that meet their needs (and budget) as opposed to being force-fed cars decreed by arrogant know-it-alls in government.

The Daily Bell: It seems to us that the car business has elements of what we call “directed history.” That means that people controlling in the industry have a destination in mind for the industry and create manufactured “events” (and “demand”) that drive the industry in the direction they want it to go. So many in the business are rushing to make cars that take away control from the driver. Why do you think this is?

Eric Peters: You’ve answered this question already. The motive is control. Government is fundamentally about controlling other people.

This is what I focus on. The evil of this notion that anyone has the right to control another human being.

Those 18th century wig-wearing dudes had this odd idea that government – if it has any legitimate role to play at all – exists to protect everyone’s equal right to be left in peace. To – in Libertarian terms – not be aggressed against.

There is this thing called the Myth of Authority – this notion that  we, as individuals, must submit to a collective. Which doesn’t even exist in reality, but which is always in a actuality the decree of a relative handful of people who claim they “represent” or “speak for” or in some other way transmute the “will” of the people.

Disabuse people of the Myth of Authority and every action “the government” (just other people, never forget) performs that goes beyond defending people’s equal right to be left unmolested becomes obviously illegitimate.

The Daily Bell: To put it bluntly, it seems to us that the car business, in league with governmental priorities, is most concerned with moving toward driverless electric cars.

Eric Peters: The privately owned, human-controlled car is one of the last redoubts of individual autonomy. People are still (for now) free to drive whenever they like, pretty much however they like. They are free to ignore government edicts, such as speed limits.

The people I call “Clovers” (i.e., authoritarian control freaks) cannot abide this. Think of Joan Claybrook, as an example. (She was the NHTSA nag who almost singlehandedly imposed the 55 MPH National Speed Limit not he country back in the ’70s).

And electric cars? They’re a bogey. They are presented as a necessary “green” antidote to the internal combustion-powered car. An end-run around “big oil.”

In fact, they are a crony capitalist make-work project and a way to make cars both very expensive to own as well as impractical and unpleasant to own – another way to “nudge” (as another Clover by the name of Cass Sunstein puts it) people out of their private cars and into herd-like public (that is, government controlled) transportation.

The Daily Bell: Yes, these cars will inform government of you routes and ensure, via electrical elements, that traveling too far and too fast is onerous. In other words, bit by bit, vehicles that could take you anywhere you wanted to go anonymously are being turned into devices that report your location at all times and make it hard to travel.

Eric Peters: It is assumed that these driverless cars will enhance mobility and so,liberty. I call bulls–t on that. When has anything under the control of the government ever resulted in more latitude and discretion for the individual?

Assuming the technology can be worked out, what will likely happen is the cars will be programmed to operate at a least-common-denominator pace (read, they will go very slowly – for “safety” and “economy”) and – worst of all – every trip will be second-guessed/controlled and monitored by the government.

Is that what people really want? I hope not!

The Daily Bell: One of the car companies we most dislike is Tesla.  You have any thoughts?

Eric Peters: All electric cars ever built (to date) have been gimped by serious functional and economic problems. They cost too much to be economically viable and their too-long recharge times and limit range make them functionally unacceptable as real-world-viable alternatives to IC cars.

But the Tesla stands out as particularly, spectacularly egregious. Here we have a crony capitalist rent-seeking enterprise of the first order. How obnoxious is it that ordinary people are taxed to “help” very affluent people (the only people who can afford to buy a Tesla) acquire a car with a base price of $70,000?

Tesla exists only because of government. Take away the “incentives” –that is, the subsidies – and the whole thing goes away.

The Daily Bell: There was a terrible car crunch after 2008 and reports and photos of cars piling up around the world. Thousands, even tens and hundreds of thousands sitting in ports. One would think the large car companies would have gone out business. But they did not. Comment?

Eric Peters: Debt – now expanding to another bubble – is what’s kept things going. The average price paid last year for a new car was more than $30,000 – which is why the average new car loan is now spread out over six years. It is going to be seven soon. This is not sustainable. Because cars are depreciating assets. They lose value each year you own them. These extended loans are going to leave more and more people “under water.”

The cost of cars is not only going up, it is going to explode in the next few years, because of pending government requirements (e.g., the federal mandatory minimum fuel efficiency – CAFE – requirement, which will rise to 54.5 MPG by the year 2020). This will likely bring the whole industry to it knees because most people will simply no longer be able to afford the cars, even when financed over eight or perhaps ten years.

The Daily Bell: We think at the top, car manufacturing is a good deal more homogeneous and directed than people understand. You see it that way?

Eric Peters: Of course. In a very real way, government regs have created what amounts to a “template” that homogenizes car design. It is why they increasingly all look – and drive – the same. Arguably, it is government rather than buyer preferences that dictate new car design.

The Daily Bell: Give us some background and comments on the recent VW nonsense. You wrote a good article on it. How does that fit into what we’re talking about here?

Eric Peters: I am not sure what lies behind the jihad now directed at VW. It may be political, it may be merely the vengefulness of federal bureaucrats. Regardless, the end story is that (for now and possibly forever) there are no affordable diesel-powered cars available on the market. VW was the only car company selling them – and VW has been forbidden to sell any more of them until they “comply” with the government’s edicts. Which may be impossible to do without rendering them no-longer-affordable.

I have a friend inside Mazda, which had planned to bring diesel engines to the market as an option in models like the Mazda3 and CX5. My source tells me Mazda corporate decided against because of the cost/hassle involved dealing with EPA regs.  It’s not that the cars are “dirty.” It’s that the regulatory burden has become Byzantine (and too costly to make it worth their while).

The Daily Bell: Any other thoughts? Last points?

Eric Peters: Yes. I wish more people would be less passive about this business of a handful of busybodies telling them what they will have (and be forced to pay for) in their next car.

As Seinfeld used to say… who are these people?

The Daily Bell: Any other books in the works?

Eric Peters: Yes. Its title is Doomed. It’s about good ideas that were poorly executed or fell victim to poor timing. It’s almost done and will hopefully be available later this year.

The Daily Bell: Care to give us a forward looking commentary on where the business is headed and what people should do if they don’t like the trends?

Eric Peters: I think we are near a kind of event horizon, not just in the car business but generally. Things that cannot continue will not continue. Trump’s ascendance is a barometer of people’s sense of this. I am not endorsing Trump; merely taking note of the fact that his popularity is a kind of canary in the coal mine. I wrote about this at greater length in my recent article, “A Long, Hot Summer” (available at EPautos.com under “politics”).

But I see this as a fundamentally good and healthy thing. My hope is that people are awakening to the importance of liberty and increasingly less taken in by the disingenuous cries of “safety!” and “security” that have been transforming America into a kind of North American take on the East German model.

As my country friends like to say: Throw it in the woods!

The Daily Bell: Thanks for your time!

Eric Peters: My pleasure.




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  • gringott

    Controlling the right to movement is the end game here. Lately in my neck of the woods they have built new bridges across the Ohio, you must pay to cross, every vehicle will have its plate recorded, no information on how long this will be stored or to whom it will be given.
    Like most toll bridges and roads, it will never be paid off and the tolls will never go away.

    • FalconMoose

      Good post.

    • Mike in Virginia

      The bridges will follow the pattern of the Ohio Turnpike. When it was built, the state said that tolls would be used to pay off the bonds that were floated for its construction. Once the bonds were retired, the tolls would go away. Fast forward 30 years: the bonds are paid off, and the state says that it has to keep the tolls to maintain the road. Just another broken promise by government.

      • gringott

        I have already experienced this in the state of my birth, Illinois, with their tollway “pay off” and the sudden need to “improve and rebuild” when the bonds were about to be paid off. It never goes away.

      • robt

        It’s so long ago that we’ve generationally forgotten it, but the gasoline taxes and vehicle licences revenue were supposed to pay for the roads and their maintenance.
        In the way that government knows how to do best, those funds are misappropriated to pay for bonuses, pensions, the buying of votes, and more bureaucrats.
        Now, in our city of Toronto, certain important high-traffiic roads downtown are made even more congested because one, or sometimes two lanes are segregated as bicycle lanes, which are most often almost completely unused.
        As a final insult, the bicycle riders, most of whom do not follow the rules of the road or even demonstrate common sense or consideration, don’t even have to buy licence plates or receive instruction on rules of the road, which encourages their anonymous illegal, egregious, obnoxious, and often unsafe behavior, and which would at least help to pay for the cost of conversion to bicycle lanes which typically cost between 1/2 to 1 million dollars a mile.
        Think about that number.

  • Another excellent thought provoking essay!

    • Thanks.

      • Publio

        Ditto to the DB for always publishing interesting & forward thinking writers!
        from a long time reader, best regards!

  • Earn nest

    Happy Easter! I was fortunate to get a license in 1974. All those great 60’s cars were ours at a low cost. Easy to work on. We also had the great Japanese quality at low price. I’ve always looked at 1968 as a crucial change. The Summer of love and the institution of the gun control act and emission standards. The failure of both has been evident yet the only technique offered from authority has been doubling and tripling down. I believe the fundamental problem is evidenced by the Federal reserve and IRS. Natural consequences, the laws of nature and economics are avoided by a parasitic power, cancer, that grows and requires more and more of the host. Now the STATED goals of gun control and EPA are fine ideals but government performs badly like a cancer does. The government exists to maintain the rights of individuals and often fails precisely because it attempts to override those rights rather than enhance them. We’d have gotten fuel injection and safety OPTIONS as well as better control of gun abuse and terrorism by the people’s choice but instead we have the great weight of regulatory ineptitude crushing and debilitating our freedom and economy. No the endeavor is control and power under the guise of improvement and will fail only when unmasked. The internet is finally salting these slugs and it is good to see them writhe too.

  • FalconMoose

    As I subscribe to LewRockwell.com, I get to read Eric’s articles a few times a week. Always look forward to his edgy insight and knowledge of cars and liberty.

    • Mike in Virginia

      You might also like Eric’s site. Lots of good discussion about his articles, as well as material that isn’t linked on LRC. He is a great voice for liberty, as well as an able and entertaining commentator on cars. (No, I’m not affiliated with Eric or the site; I just enjoy it and recommend it when I can.)

  • autonomous

    Like a bad horror film, the bad just won’t die. Kill it? Of course, but don’t expect it to stay dead.

  • Whenever a sense of abundance can be opened up as a sense of extended power or freedom – there then is the opportunism cultivating a market and power cartel that derived power of tax or dependency from those who expand into the ‘new idea’.
    It isn’t that a sense of freedom is wrong to associate with a car or with movement – but that there is always a correspondence of responsibility that accompanies liberty – or else it is simply a freedom to drive roughshod over Life – over others and one’s own true interests. IE: Destructive to Life.
    Is the ‘absolute right to be left in peace’ meaningful?
    Since when will Life leave you in ‘peace’?
    These phrases come out of mutually agreed associative definitions that seemed self-evident – as all such currency of thought does – in its day.
    But we are relational being – that is we experience in relation to others – to events and situations and the balancing of such experience is again a matter of inner freedom and responsibility OR ELSE a coercive intent to force an imbalance operates from an imbalanced and un-free sense – and this consolidates and operates through the idea of government as a legally defined justification and agreement to check and qualify the use of such force.
    When the coercive intent becomes the mistaken idea of freedom to assert and impose power – then such ‘freedom’ asserts that no one else will be accorded the right to disturb the peace of my rule. But the coercive intent is always the result of the loss of relational communication to a fear of – or assertion of – power.
    The THINKING that derives from either a ‘separated off’ sense of power or the separate sense of being denied by power – has given rise to a cultural disposition that is so corrupted by power as to have only a trickle of residual Consciousness in Relational being. Indeed what I am writing here (insofar as it is read at all) will be largely referred to ‘thinking’ without being received as a felt communication.
    It is the impoverishment of the currency of thought that reflects the bankruptcy of our outer reflected experience.
    The auto-mobile is not strictly autonomous just because you don’t use a horse. Indeed the Oil Cartel has used it to expand as Pharma of initially oil derived by-products- as well as the energy-cartels. And Oil/Gas continues to drive geopolitical misery that the highway star is oblivious of association with as in global ‘solutions’ the costs are outsourced while the profits are sucked up and evaporated.
    There is much more on the symbology of the car that is interesting. On some levels it is clear that personal mobility was designed and promoted as public utility was undermined. Is it all power and greed driven – with the spin of cultural improvement as part of selling it?
    Well that is part of what humanity aspires to; the ‘hit’ or rush of a high – along with seeking to maximise a personal high by ‘outsourcing’ or denying/invalidating the low.
    I feel that the freedom to indulge the wish of power has painted itself into corner, or a traffic jam – or even a self-driving googlebot! And of course the sheer hatred that rises in such frustration of WANTING and not getting and blaming rather than communicating – not having the resource of communication open or available within the impulse of ‘getting’.

    I may add that in UK – since the first ‘green’ thinking was subverted to mainstream leverage – so as not being allowed to open a real communication that includes the living context of our otherwise dead thinking – the motorist has been taxed more, and emasculated, and infantilised – such that as with other arenas of life, the taking over by actual robots will be seamless because we have already ‘evolved’ (sic) to such lack of consciousness as to be replaced by external control mechanism – operated and run by a power elitism. Whose image are we being remade in but the anti-life that seeks to regain its right to luxuriate in its own private vision without Life interfering with its freedom from such disturbance. I have every reason to believe that death is not in fact such a victory – and that regression to a presumed perfect state is a trick of hindsight. But then I embrace Life on Earth despite having to embrace all kinds of frustration and emotional pain – so I’m on board for a journey that is inherently transformational and not just ‘me’ getting high.

    I recall some describing the 60’s as the idea of being high all the time opening to the spiritual realisation that that was not freedom – and that uncovering a true freedom was a more meaningful life. The fact that such impulses get caught up and subverted does not in any way invalidate the impulse. It reflects an invalidating thinking being interjected and imposed upon it.

  • EDD

    I’m starting by a quote from Eric Peters which I believe to be the most important part and which this story gives details. Having been in the automotive field all my adult life, I have found that this article resonates with my own experiences. Not only that, but the quote is the central theme relevant to any article of a patriotic or freedom loving genre.

    Quote: “So, I believe the individual has an absolute right to be left in peace (not harmed or threatened with harm) so long as he himself is peaceful. Politically, this means self-government rather than government. In economics, it means exchanges must be voluntary and mutually agreeable.”

    This statement exemplifies the attitude of our forefathers and the mechanisms they put in place to ensure that America remains in the control of ‘We the People——-etc.’ So in his affirmation of these principles, Eric is proclaiming himself to be an advocate of the structure by which our nation was founded upon. Even from the beginning of our nation, the enemies of freedom sought to destroy the foundations of the American way of life.

    There are numerous net articles that decry the Masonic influence placed upon society. It was not always this way because many of our forefathers were Masons, a very respectful organization in those days. It is impossible to know the origin of the Masonic order since the concepts are lost in the dustbin of antiquity. Perhaps the Masonic symbols at one time carried a spiritual connotation paralleling some of the ancient mystery schools and thus have a sacred geometry unrecognized by the ‘so called’ modern man.

    During the era of our nations birth, there was also the founding of the Illuminati and the subsequent infiltration of the Masonic order. The infiltration of the order was so great that today this is only a shadow of light still held within the tenets of said order. They are held within the symbols of the original intent but which has been given a monstrous equivalent.

    The one symbol which I am going to give reference to in this post is the single eye predominate with Masonic and Illuminati propaganda. I wish to give my support to my thesis by two seemingly different sources. The first in the words of the Master: “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.” (From Luke; and Mathew has a similar quote.)

    The second source is from the Hindu tradition where there is often a red dot placed just above and between the eyebrows of the devout devotee. In Eastern tradition, this corresponds to the ‘third eye chakra’, another term for the single eyed vision.

    Years ago, I once had an experience where I saw this ‘eye’ in my mind, and this was before I learned of the significance of the symbol through my years of subsequent research. And I had this profound experience during a deep meditative state.

    By his own testimony, Eric found his single eye focus through his experiences and as a reporter, is now sharing his viewpoints to those who know events are not consistent with the viewpoints of those being perpetrated upon an unsuspecting population. (Maybe not so unsuspecting due to the advent of the ‘net?) It is my opinion that every person has mission in life that fills his or her purpose with ‘light’ when each one is following the divine blueprint of the soul within self.

    Kudos to Eric on his insights.

  • Praetor

    Excellent! Mobility and liberty go to gather, just ask the pilgrims. Liberty and its elimination is of top priority. People being mobile is not what they want. If they have their way highways will look more like train track. With every one reading their IPads on their way to the offices, to do nothing because robots do all the work. What a weird world these dystopian lot have planed. Well might as well go buy a bicycle or a horse. The only way to get around without them knowing about it. The DMV’s needs to change if cars drive themselves and the auto insurance companies. What a mess!!!

  • Dolph Longedgreens

    How about those state owned and policed roads? If not for that, it would be much harder to regulate automobiles.

  • dave jr

    VW is being vilified by gov(s) because they had the kahunas to put their customers interests ahead of nonelected (non-consented to) bureaucrats and so will be made example of, beyond just being fined for noncompliance.

    Out of infinite wisdom, oxides of nitrogen, one being nitrous oxide (NO2) which we used to inhale in the dentists’ chair, present in diesel exhaust emissions has been arbitrarily mandated to be lowered a few ppm. The easiest way to do this is to lower combustion temperatures, achieved by introducing exhaust flow back into the intake manifold with Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valves.

    This is problematic for diesel IC engines.

    1). lowering combustion temperature lowers fuel efficiency. Any diesel engine under an EGR cycle suffers at least a 10% reduction in fuel mileage. So a trip from point A to point B uses 10% more fuel, negating NOx reductions.

    2). lowering diesel engine combustion temperature increases highly abrasive soot, now being fed back into the intake with a little oil vapor bypassing the turbo bearing, creates a paste with the consistency of tar sands. This paste eventual clogs the intake manifold, sensors and air/idle valves causing reductions in performance, failures (engine fault codes and limp mode) as well as reduced cylinder / piston ring longevity.

    3). The additional soot also requires expensive and elaborate exhaust after treatment with particulate traps and various methods for servicing them, like Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), adding more service items and expense.

    So, VW was doing their customers a favor by supplying more efficient, more reliable and longer lasting cars. The minute amount NOx reduction can’t even be detected without sensitive analyzing equipment. Perhaps a need for the authoritarian, to stick their nose up the exhaust port of everyone, is another motive?

  • nonplused

    The only way to make a car get 54 mpg in 2020 as mandated by law is… a motorcycle. Small displacement motorcycles regularly get that kind of mileage but a car never will unless it can be made as light and with a similar air displacement (ie how much air has to be moved around the vehicle when it’s travelling and how fast.) The laws of thermodynamics gives an upper limit to the amount of energy that can be extracted from a gas expansion process and converted to either rotary power or electricity of 50%. Then some of the power is lost to the transmission, etc. Modern engines are not 50% efficient but that’s a theoretical limit and unlikely to ever be met by anything besides maybe a combined cycle gas turbine, which is impractical for cars. So my point is to get to 54 mpg you have to somehow suspend the laws of physics or make the cars very very small, like a smart car, which is really just a 4 wheeled motorcycle. The other factor that seriously affects mileage is the nature of our road ways. All this stopping and starting and idling in congestion not only wastes a lot of time, but a lot of gas too. But you don’t see the government falling over itself to build better roads and reduce congestion.
    The other scam is public transportation. Buses and trains are very efficient per passenger in rush hour when they are full, but that’s 4 hours a day. The rest of the time you have a bus trundling along it’s route getting 5 mpg with 4 people on it. That’s only 20 pmpg (passenger miles per gallon) which many cars can already beat with only 1 person in them, and the car typically makes a more direct route. Plus you have to pay the bus driver union wages.