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.