All Your Cars Are Belong Us

Did you know that most cars do nothing for 23 hours a day? Yes, they are totally idle. Sleeping safely in their owner's garage, or on his drive, or at her place of work, or in the station car park. Shocking, isn't it? What a terrible waste of assets. We should ensure that all these cars are DRIVEN. All the time.

But there is a reason why all these cars are idle. Their owners are busy doing something else. Many people who drive to work, or to the station, do jobs that they love, that they have the skills to do, and that earn them a good living. Should these people give up their jobs and embark on new careers ferrying people around for money, just so their cars don't stay idle for large parts of the day? Really?

No-one in their right mind would give up a job that was sufficiently well-paid for a quality car to be affordable, in order to drive for Uber (or any other "car sharing" business, for that matter). The remuneration just isn't that good. So presumably we are talking about people car sharing for money in addition to their day jobs. But this is not a free lunch. If the car owner's productivity in his day job falls because he is tired from moonlighting as an Uber driver, then making more productive use of his car comes at a cost - a cost that may lead to him losing his better-paid job. This is not clever. Better that the car remains idle for 23 hours a day, surely? 

Even if all these car owners took up new careers driving for Uber, or did a few hours in addition to their day jobs, their cars still would not be used 24/7. They would still be parked up the majority of the time. After all, people work maybe 8 or so hours in every 24, less at weekends. The rest of the time is spent sleeping, eating, helping the kids with their homework, visiting relatives, entertaining friends, fending off nuisance phone calls, setting the world to rights in the pub and doing a range of voluntary activities. And of course most people expect to have holidays (though some people actually drive their cars more when they go on holiday than they do the rest of the time). Do we really regard all these activities as unproductive? Must we replace them with driving, simply to ensure that cars are "used"? What is the cost to society of doing so? 

For example, suppose our car owner gives up running the local scout troop in order to drive for Uber in the evenings. Is he adding value to the economy? Economically, perhaps yes, though as I've already pointed out that there are limits to the amount of work that people can do before productivity suffers. Socially, I'd suggest, the answer is clear. No way is driving for Uber of equal social value to running the local scout troop. We have replaced a socially useful activity with an economic activity of at best marginal benefit. 

The underlying assumption is that economic value is the only "value" that matters. This is poisonous. Our society is founded on the things that people do in their spare time. When people are forced to work longer hours because their incomes aren't high enough, social and philanthropic activities decline. The argument that "idle" cars should be brought into use therefore ignores both economic and social opportunity costs. 

Of course, there are always the retirees who buy expensive cars with their pension lump sums. They aren't working, so there is no economic opportunity cost involved. And they probably spend their time playing golf, which is not a particularly socially useful activity. So clearly they should drive for Uber. And some do. 

But there is a cost, actually. They are retired for a reason, namely that they are getting old and may have medical problems. If they drive for Uber, they risk running down their own physical resources. 

And there is a second issue. They have spent their savings on a depreciating asset. Driving that car for money means that the asset depreciates even faster, not just because a car that is driven a lot wears out more quickly but also because a high-mileage car simply is not as valuable as a low-mileage one, however good its condition. "One careful lady owner" is a thing, in second-hand car markets. So it may not be in the financial interests of our retiree who has blown part of his pension on a top-of-the-range Mercedes to drive for Uber. The remuneration he will receive is unlikely to compensate him for both his time spent driving (and therefore not on the golf course) and the depreciation of his asset. When he replaces the Mercedes in five years' time, he may find that he ends up materially poorer than he would have been had he spent the time on the golf course instead of driving for Uber. 

Faster depreciation of assets is dis-saving. Unless it is compensated by high enough remuneration to support regular replacement of those assets while still generating a profit, it is NOT PRODUCTIVE. It does not create wealth. 

Commercial businesses take opportunity costs, profit margins and depreciation into account when making buying decisions. But ordinary people generally do not. How many people driving for Uber have taken into account not only the value of their time (including the loss of alternative activities) but the faster depreciation of their cars? I would venture to suggest that the number is vanishingly small. 

The fact is that commercial car sharing schemes are able to undercut existing taxi services because their drivers bear the cost of asset maintenance and depreciation. They exploit the fact that people do not value either their time or their assets properly. They are therefore founded on an information and power asymmetry. When banks do this, we call it mis-selling. But when it is hyped up as "sharing" and supported by "new technology", it will spread peace, love and happiness everywhere while building better communities and saving the planet, apparently. Eh??

But there is a second issue here. If people use their cars so little, why do they have them? Why don't they just use taxis or public transport? Well, there are good reasons for this. And they aren't, by and large, financial ones. 

The vast majority of people who drive, do so only as a means to an end. They want to get from A to B at a time of their choosing, without having to stop off at G, wait half an hour in the rain for a connection to X then change again at X to get to B. They like to travel in an environment where they can play loud rock music and smoke like chimneys if they want to. Using their own car means they can carry with them all the things they need (and probably quite a lot of things that they don't need, but that's human nature for you). They can ferry their own kids to school, removing the worry that parents feel when kids use public transport, supposedly "safe" taxis, bikes or their own feet. They can take Grandma to the day centre, the cat to the vet and the dog somewhere interesting for a walk. 

And for many (I am one), even when they aren't using the car they leave stuff in it. The boot of a parked car is an extra storage space. So although my car may be parked, it is not idle. It is being used.

People drive because it is easy, convenient and gives them control, not because it is cheap. Only when the cost of owning a car exceeds the cumulative costs of taxis AND taxis can adequately substitute for the convenience of a car, are they are likely to ditch their cars in favour of taxis. Similarly, when public transport is comprehensive and parking charges high, car ownership tends to decline. 

So if disruption and technological change in public transport and taxi services mean they improve, that is all to the good. Bring on driverless cars controlled by smartphones as a replacement for inefficient, crowded and dirty buses and expensive taxis. I, for one, would happily relinquish my car if there were a public transport service, or a private taxi service, that was equally convenient (including the extra storage space, please). It doesn't have to be cheap - after all, driving a car is dead time. If I can use that time more productively, I might be prepared to pay more, rather than less.  

But disruptive technology bringing real convenience improvement is not fundamentally what Uber and its relatives offer. They are offering me cheap rides in other people's cars. I don't have a problem with Uber disrupting taxi services and public transport, if that forces them to up their game, but I do have a problem with the idea that bringing idle cars into use is "productive". At Uber rates, I can't see how it is. 

But there is something else underlying this idea that "idle assets" should be brought into use. At the "Battle of Ideas" event that I attended last weekend, someone in the audience complained about yachts that he had seen moored at St. Katherine's Dock in London. "It was a fine sunny evening, and yet they weren't being used", he said. "Why don't the rich people let us use them?"

Indeed, why DON'T car owners, yacht owners and the owners of large houses rent out their assets to total strangers?

I'm sure you can work out why. If they are rich enough to afford them, they probably don't need the money. And if they don't need the money, why would they expose their assets to theft, vandalism, faster depreciation and general wear and tear? They leave their assets idle because they can

Leaving assets idle is the privilege of those rich enough to own them. It is the principle underlying property rights, that I can use my assets when I choose and lay them aside when I choose. I don't have to share them with others if I don't want to. You may regard it as wasteful for my car to be left parked while I am at work. but frankly that's none of your business. It is my car, and you have no right to tell me what to do with it. I've paid for exclusive use of that car. 

So, those too poor to afford those assets look enviously at them and say, "You aren't using that, so I should be allowed to". And those with green principles (and exploitative business models) latch on to this in the name of "sharing". In the latest version of Brave New World, everyone must "share" their assets for money. It's wasteful of them not to.

I'm astounded that people of libertarian persuasion can't see that this is creeping communism. All your cars are belong us. And your yachts, and your houses. In fact anything that you have and we want. It's immoral not to share them. Innit.

Related reading:


  1. "Leaving assets idle is the privilege of those rich enough to own them."

    As long as they're paying full freight for all the externalities, too, then fine. Car owners typically aren't.

    E.g.: "The boot of a parked car is an extra storage space. So although my car may be parked, it is not idle. It is being used."

    Frequently, parked in a "public" parking space rented for free or deeply subsidised.

    "Only when the deadweight cost of owning a car exceeds the cumulative costs of taxis AND taxis can adequately substitute for the convenience of a car, are they are likely to ditch their cars in favour of taxis."

    Not actually the meaning of "deadweight cost", but anyway. The intended effect of "the sharing economy" is to decrease the costs and increase the utility of taxis to the point where enough people ditch their cars that it becomes politically viable to make the remainder to pay full freight. Which in turn, will accelerate the shift to taxis, which in turn will lead to higher aggregate utilisation rates.

    1. 1) Actually car owners do pay substantially for their privilege, particularly if they don't use their cars much.

      2) Where my car is parked has nothing to do with my use of the boot for storage. It's actually on my drive, which I own, but that is not the point. Parking a car in a public place and NOT using the boot for storage is arguably even more wasteful.

      3) You really shouldn't believe the hype you hear from "sharing economy" aficionados. The intended effect is to get people to share their cars for next to nothing, not ditch them. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would eliminate taxis, not accelerate the shift to them.

    2. Well, if you are going to avoid the economics of it, I should add then that cars are planet-destroying killing machines that no sane society should allow in private hands. Future generations will look back on our culture with the same incomprehension with which we ourselves have for American gun culture.

      "Because personal preference" is not a sound basis for public policy.

  2. I find this whole argument deeply weird.

    If there are people who have cars and who would like to use them to earn money and for whom the benefits outweigh the costs, and the advent of uber enables mutually beneficial transactions to take place that previously could not, that is more or less the textbook definition of productivity increase and wealth creation and has nothing to do with communism. The important bits are voluntary and being better off on net.

    1. If you think people do not value their time or assets properly that rasies problems far beyond this sharing business.

    2. That ordinary people do not know the value of either their time or their assets is old news. It is the basis of all financial exploitation. You surely aren't going to suggest financial exploitation doesn't exist?

    3. OK so some proportion of uber drivers may be making bad decisions against their own interests. This is also true of people either taking or remaining in jobs, selling or buying things etc.

      The standard response to that is that nobody else is likely to know what's in somebody's own interest better than themselves, and regulation very blunt and to be used sparingly. In case of financial products may be able to say people should not be allowed to buy this. In case of uber what is basis for thinking decisions people make are systematically worse than in other areas of economic life?

    4. I don't think that people are necessarily making worse decisions in this than they have in other scams. But they are being systematically misled. They don't know that they are going to make very little money and will bear all the costs and risks, or if they do, they don't realise what this actually means for them. There is nothing new about this, of course: since time immemorial, people have been fooled into parting with their cash or their assets by other people promising that their scheme will fix all the ills of society. This "sharing economy" stuff is just the latest flavour of snake oil. Sorry.

  3. I find this whole argument deeply weird.

    If there are people who have cars and who would like to use them to earn money and for whom the benefits outweigh the costs, and the advent of uber enables mutually beneficial transactions to take place that previously could not, that is more or less the textbook definition of productivity increase and wealth creation and has nothing to do with communism. The important bits are voluntary and being better off on net.

    1. The "creeping communism" bit is to do with the attitude, not the economic effect. They use moral arguments about "waste" to imply that people who have cars should either share them, or ditch them and share other people's. They speak of privately owned assets as if they are public property that "we" should be using more efficiently. No they aren't.

      And it's all hype, anyway. This isn't "sharing", it's renting assets out for money. Who is making money out of this? Certainly not the drivers, who are getting very little (and, we are led to believe, are happy to do so). The principal beneficiaries are the people running "sharing" businesses and "sharing" websites.

    2. Oh sure I've no sympathy for moral arguments either, sharing ecnomy is just a trading platform like classified ads or a job centre that focuses on people with spare capacity theyd like to utilise. Or at least that ought to be it.

    3. Indeed, that is all it is. And I am very happy for technology to make it easier for people to buy and sell goods and services, and rent out assets, if that's what they want to do. I just hate all the "post-capitalist" hype.

    4. The "creeping communism" bit is a neat argument, but, Frances, how do you square it with your own frequent arguments against idle savings? If people want to sit on gilts or gold bars, or live frugally so as to increase their stock of gilts and gold bars, instead of investing their savings in promising ventures, isn't it their own business too?

    5. The hype is indeed annoying and silly, but in practice does the "sharing" bit actually matter other than as a marketing device? Uber seems to really be an improved version of telephone-based mini-cab dispatchers. Airbnb an improved bed-and-breakfast catalogue and holiday home booking service. On all this services, what's the proportion of transactions that is fulfilled by civilians "sharing" occasionally as per the narrative? Is it not a small minority?

    6. Cig,

      Yes, it is absolutely their own business what they do with their assets, whether they are gold bars or cars. I have never said otherwise. On the gold bar side, I object to marketing that plays up fears of loss in order to promote gold hoarding (or any other sort of asset hoarding). On the car side, I object to marketing that plays up worries about waste to encourage people to become part-time taxi drivers and landladies. Car sharing and renting out rooms isn't going to save the planet any more than gold hoarding will protect from loss.

      Of course it's a small minority. And always will be. But that's not what the "sharing" companies are saying. They are promoting their "sharing economy" as a fundamental transformation of society. Frankly this is bunk.

  4. I do not see your point.
    You are engaging in a obtuse spacious argument.
    Locked inside a roundabout of your own burb imagination.

    Social creditors do not wish to seize anything.
    They do realise that capital goods overproduction engaged by the connected corporate sector imposes massive costs on everybody.
    The car in present numbers represents the hard physical end of socialism /financial capitalism.
    In particular it imposes harsh costs on people who wish to remain on foot in the interests of spiritual awareness of one's real rather then the linear surroundings of a car centric finance capitalism model.

  5. I thumb once a week on average.
    I do not coerce anybody to stop.
    That is their choice.
    Again I do not see the point you are making.

    As for the argument that car owners pay.......
    They pay into the tax system which is a intregal part of the scarcity system.
    It is in no way a reflection of true costs.

  6. The argument orbits not why cars must be utilised to the extent they currently are but the physical ecosystem (in fact it's a Hothouse) that we currently reside.

    The system of scarcity is not working.
    We can see people must travel further and further distances for less real end use energy consumed.
    Transport energy consumption is eating all of the pies.
    I have walked through too many pre car villages to buy this British centric scarcity nonsense


  8. The above woman gives the impression that she is not soft
    She does not sugarcoat efforts to escape the demonic scarcity engine below in the Spanish plain.

    I have just finished working a field that will by next year become viable grazing land again.
    I was working with a peasant who was albeit corrupted by that typical Irish 1970s petro country and western culture ( he was driving a Doozer)

    Despite this it was a immensely satisfying experience of real work.

    The synthetic scouting culture of southern England is deeply fake.
    It seeks to reinvent a older culture so as to aid the demonic banking state.
    Its a burn culture pretending to be rural, to be real.
    It is a absurdity .
    It certainly is not real.

  9. Huzzah. Somebody inbox me when these geniuses actually have an idea that is progressive rather than scrabbling shabbily at the demise of our once great liberating economy (which, for younger people who don't get it because of the change in circumstance, the car was a lynch pin of) with such sh*te ideas that they even have to dress them up as 'socialism is cool as long as I can get away from it by making money out of it'.

  10. I agree with the sentiment here. However one "asset" that I think we as a society need to "sweat" a bit more is housing. At the moment UK housing is extremely expensive to purchase but relatively cheep to leave idle. Unlike cars and yachts they are pretty much fixed in terms of supply. This situation encourages inefficient use and is just a much a problem as a lack of building.
    Even if this opinion makes me a Communist :-)

  11. In other news, my electric toothbrush is idle 23 hours and 56 minutes per day.

    1. And my hair straighteners are idle for 23 hours and 58 minutes per day.

      Where does this end?

    2. We hardly ever commit our total armed forces to battle... perhaps we could rent them out as mercenaries or use them to build houses? Well, we were talking of daft ideas.

    3. Where does this end?

      Hand powered toothbrushes, combs and stuff.
      I could never get the labour saving potential of electric toothbrushes, absurd little things.

    4. Very few people live like a Franciscan now.
      They have all this stuff but no purchasing power.
      The liberal materialists objective is to trap you in their web of consumption, therefore they can devour your soul / your life force at leisure
      Below is a interesting commute.


    6. With the total failure of wage slavery in Spain we can see the Carlist forces (who held equity rather then debt ) were almost entirely correct.
      In the 19th century the liberal forces of usury wiped out lowland medieval Spain.
      In the 20th Century Franco finished the job in the mountains.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.


      The lesson taken from the above Pans labyrinth clip.
      Eat from their table and they will subsequently eat you alive.

  12. I wouldn’t include Uber in the “sharing economy” as described by evangelists like Benita Matovska.

    Uber is nothing to do with sharing your car. It is about using technology to organise taxi drivers more efficiently than a traditional minicab network does. People don’t become Uber drivers because they want to better utilise their car. They become Uber drivers because they make more money than if they join a local minicab network.

    Are they being exploited? Maybe. But probably less than a traditional low-wage employee is. There’s a great article by Tim O’Reilly noting how a traditional employer uses data and technology solely to help managers, disempowering workers (by keeping average hours just below certain thresholds, for example).

    In places like Uber data is available to both manager and worker, empowering the worker:

  13. But the deeper question is why are people short of time tokens.
    Surely you are only short of time near death.
    This artifical scarcity of time is a deep deep characteristic of capitalism.

  14. It is much worse than that... All that this "free agent", "human cloud" business model amounts to is just a marketing rebranding for "piecework" in the factory and even of "putting out" (cottage labour), a pre-industrial practice of great duration.

    As a very good business book pointed out piecework used to be very popular with british management because it avoided them having to deal with labour and shopfloor management issues, leaving work organization to the cheap disposable "human cloud" of labourers.

    But this responsibility avoidance even *within one's own business*, without any outsourcing and offshoring, drives bad work practices and bad productivity, as coordination is essential for productivity and even more so for consistent and high quality.

    To the point that Adam Smith was arguing like others in his time that the government ought to drive cottage labour to bankruptcy with high taxes and other troubles, in order to push cottage labourers into factories where they could be squeezed much harder, and organized from above more productively.

  15. Coppola just lost my respect

    nothing is as simple as she implies in this article

    it doesn't help public discourse to trivialize nuance that demands nuanced discussion

    1. What's 'nuanced' about it?
      Cars were a great economic liberation for many people. They allowed them to have control of a factor in their production.
      The economy benefitted massively from this. There are a lot more cars now because people could afford them.
      They are not all 'utilised' all of the time, so what?
      The fact that people still need a car because of the shape of society that evolved as result of them is not the problem.
      I don't think people are trying to utilise these 'idle assets' because they want to.
      It is because of the state of the wider economy and the failure of capital to support lesser mortals with ideas that actually help them.
      So, instead they try to gain from people who could do with cutting costs and consider sharing by using their capital.
      They 'incentivise' it and market it playing on the 'sharing economy' whilst trying to make money out of it.
      Wow, they 'spotted a market', well, bully for them.
      How about they actually try to invent something that has the equivalent effect the car had instead?
      Or, better still, take some REAL risk and lend it to someone else that might (but might not).
      So much for the Ayn Rand geniuses we all need to improve our lives.

  16. The shape of society did not "evolve"
    It did not evolve as a result of these machines......they are the mechanism but not the trigger.
    Society as we know it today has been shaped grotesquely by usury.

  17. Did yee guys ever visit Strathchailleach bothy ?????
    Rumour was (I am not sure the truth myself) that the hermit who lived there lost his (German) girl to a car fire.
    He was a squadie or something in the post war tank core.

    Hunted some yank off his bog as he descended from a helicopter to take a simulated chemical warfare soil soil sample. (Cape Wrath is a military exercise area)

    He was the ghost of the beech , stealing peoples stuff while swimming or shagging .......his story is covered somewhat by Robert McFarlane is his book "wild places"


  19. Always think of Donald Pleasence as Ebenezer Balfour......
    A man shaped grotesquely by artificial scarcity.
    A pitiful little heap of a man .
    All of this overproduction of capital goods does have real consequences on the human soul.



    Skoda Ireland offering 0% finance again while people are not allowed to burn coal..........all economic activity must be captured by the connected corporate consumer war economy........a truly scary time for humanity.

  22. Meet a English man once.
    We were both walking the Cape Wrath trail.
    He proudly stated how will do the lot in two weeks.
    I said I expected to do it in 3 months.

    The man looked at me as if I was insane (perhaps)
    He seemed totally unaware that the destination was unimportant.
    I tried to explain that it was the journey , the journey.......
    That his fellow countryman Showell Styles once did the 14 welsh 3000s as slow as possible by camping on each one no matter how close each peak was to each other......

    The poor man was short of time.
    I suspect he was always short of time.
    A poor little English rabbit running up and down Wonderland.
    He ran away at high velocity.

  23. The banking / consumer war economy sector (now virtually all of the euro / sterling economy) is attempting to give stuff away (0% finance on cars) to the remaining people with cash flow.
    The remaining people with cash flow are the very same people who work for the connected consumer corporate economy.
    Meanwhile the Tories want to introduce a sugar tax ( health fascism)
    All of the parties want to tax carbon further despite the overwhelming evidence that such policies increase global carbon emissions via capital export and subsequent goods import into Europe.
    So if you happen to believe in the global warming thingy you cannot stand over European energy policy.
    European energy policy is thinly disguised scam of now gigantic scale.
    The general idea is to build a race track economy
    To then claim there is now subsequently no resources for organic bottom up production / consumption loops.
    It is working.
    European society has collapsed.

  24. 2014 Irish energy balance published.
    It shows continual and massive drops in residential energy use.
    Also major increases in transport inputs ( in particular jet Kerosene)

    We can now be sure how the system works.
    Domestic rationing, transfer to corporate entities (consumer war Economy)
    They then attempt to resell energy (0% finance on Skoda etc etc )
    The capitalistic race track economy (a vortex) spins faster and faster.
    More and more consumer conduits get dumped on the sidelines.

  25. 2014 Irish energy balance published.
    It shows continual and massive drops in residential energy use.
    Also major increases in transport inputs ( in particular jet Kerosene)

    We can now be sure how the system works.
    Domestic rationing, transfer to corporate entities (consumer war Economy)
    They then attempt to resell energy (0% finance on Skoda etc etc )
    The capitalistic race track economy (a vortex) spins faster and faster.
    More and more consumer conduits get dumped on the sidelines.

  26. The whole picture will be blown away by self driving cars in a matter of some 15-20 years. This new technology is not a game changer because it gives us the opportunity to nap while riding in our car but because it makes the private car obsolete and useless. No point in owning and paying a car with all its burden of capital devaluation, insurance, garage and time lost when we'll be able to solve our moving needs with an integrated transport solution on demand. Just watch the picture: you tap on your phone a travel from A to B, put some conditions (cheapest, fastest, shared, alone, partially walking for X distance to stay fit, partially by other public transport, with/out trunk, whatever) and there you have a whole set of solutions with different prices, times and options. You make your choice and there comes in a few minutes a self driving car, van, micro two seater or three wheel scooter. It picks you up, goes where you want, you get off and farewell. No more problems, no more time lost and, yes, also no more cab drivers, no more bus drivers, no more truck drivers. And there comes the more disturbing side of the whole party. It will be possibly an historical cornerstone, a time of massive cultural shock, a big general wake up to what's already known: that our future is going to need less and less labor. Maybe it will be a good time to put down some big questions on the table. Something like "should we reform the entire property model?". We could think about practical solutions (no ideologies, please) like banning corporations from owning more than a basic number of robots and share the property of robots among the whole populations. In that case, I'll take a self driving car to go to my gym while Harvey, my own robot, is sweating in some factory earning my salary...

  27. Did you know that most cars do nothing for 23 hours a day?

    A nuclear explosion has a lifespan of nano seconds yet the results are the same as a gazillion cars driven the same time.

  28. Seen on twitter that you stated cars are not part of the commons.
    Forgive me but since the treaty of Westphalia we live in former capitalistic national monopolies.
    The costs are distributed downward and are very real.

    You cannot dispute this.
    My energy ration is compromised as I do not wish to partake in waste for waste sake.
    Do you propose to change the very nature of the banking state?

  29. Yachting magazines are full of ads for renting yachts both ways. But the obsevation still stands about ocupation. Smaller boats seem to get more use and are often a home.

    But if you are really rich you will have more than one and fly to the one that has arived while the other is sailing to the next destination. Maybe even smaller ones so you don{t have a crew arround. There I just saved you $20 million. Go multiple smaller.

    You might like yaching world magazine.


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