Politics & Policy

Europe’s Anti-Art Laws

Lamborghini Huracans at the Geneva Motor Show (Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Will the EU’s pedestrian-safety regulations save lives, or just make cars ugly?

Since degenerate art followed Jewish physics from Nazified Europe to the United States, America has dominated the art world. Between natives and expatriates, most of the best post-war painters, writers, architects, and industrial designers have done their work in the land of the free. The one active niche of beauty that Europe controls is car design.

There are legendary Italian coach-builders like Pininfarina and Bertone, who designed the legendary Ferraris and Alfa Romeos. There are plucky British small-timers like Ariel and Morgan, whose cars tend to show up on trendy imported television. There are improbably beauty-conscious German giants like BMW (which owns Rolls-Royce) and Volkswagen (which owns Bentley, Bugatti, Audi, Porsche, and Lamborghini). They are all turning out cars that, unlike many of their (cheaper) American counterparts, are consciously non-ugly. It’s inspiring. It’s the thing that makes it worthwhile preserving Europe as a place where people live instead of turning it into a big museum.

The EU, however, isn’t interested. People in Europe who have smartphones, and are stupid, occasionally walk into the street without looking both ways. Some of them get hit by cars. EU bureaucrats believe that living in Europe should mean not having to take even the most rudimentary responsibility for yourself. So instead of telling people to think before stepping off a curb (or assuming that people who don’t are not important to the gene pool), the EU has decided to require that car designs be “pedestrian safe.”

Over the last decade, new regulations have been phased in. Lower bumpers and higher hoods, intended to protect legs and skulls, are making cars boxy and ugly. In his latest Automobile article, the eminent (and brilliant) designer and critic Robert Cumberford analyzes a new Lamborghini and wistfully concludes that some charity is required toward disappointing new designs, because, in the past, designers “didn’t have to cope with pedestrian-safety regulations.” So there goes contemporary European art.

But maybe it’s worth it. Every year in the EU, 200,000 pedestrians and bicycle riders are hit by cars; 9,000 of them die. The regulators hope to save 2,000 of those lives, which is approximately the number of people who die each year from the flu — in Belgium. Those 2,000 people would account for seven-hundredths of annual EU road fatalities; 2,000 people represent about two-millionths of the EU’s population. And “2,000 lives saved” may be an overestimate. The new regulations only claim to tackle collisions at less than 25 miles per hour. Needless to say, saving 2,000 lives would be a good thing. But I suspect that as many or more could be saved with an ad campaign reminding people to look before they cross the street.

In a 1977 seminar, a student asked boffo economist Milton Friedman about the morality of the market: Ford had decided to save $13 on each Pinto it produced by leaving out a fuel-tank buffer, knowing that the absence of the buffer would cause about 200 Pinto-related deaths each year. Ford calculated that those 200 lives would cost them less than $13 multiplied by the total number of Pintos produced. Doesn’t reducing lives to dollar amounts prove that market ethics are worthless?

Friedman answered by asking whether Ford should have installed the buffers if, instead of costing $13 each, they had cost a million dollars each. His point was that the student’s objection hadn’t been to the principle of putting a monetary value on life, but to the low number Ford had chosen. Friedman went on to say that everyone in the seminar “could, at a cost, reduce his risk of dying tomorrow.” When you’re choosing which car to buy, “you know that your chance of being killed in a Pinto is greater than your chance of being killed in a Mack truck.” When you choose, instead of buying a Mack, to spend x dollars less on a less-safe car, and thereby increase by y percent your chance of being killed in a traffic accident, you’ve assigned your life a cash equivalent.

So, as regards nixing pedestrian-safety laws: How does the cost, in lives, square with the value of preserving cars as art? I’m not sure — but I am sure the decision shouldn’t be made by bureaucrats. Because there’s a larger point here.

The Nazis hated jazz and abstract painting because they believed that those things promoted social decay, decadence, and Judaism. EU regulators aren’t Nazis; they don’t hate beautiful cars, they’re just indifferent to them. It never occurs to an EU administrator that his regulations produce unintended consequences, or that any system has more than one variable.

So Europe is losing its contemporary art. An end to beautiful European cars will be unfortunate, but that’s just part of the problem.. Remember: American bureaucrats are (for the moment) less powerful than their European peers — but no more imaginative

— Josh Gelernter is a writer in Connecticut.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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