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In my “History of American Transportation” class this spring at Emory University’s Osher Institute—subtitled “From Clipper Ships to Rocket Ships”—all of the history of transportation can be summed up in five or six words: geology, westward, faster, money, and politics.

Geology controls ocean currents, fertile river valleys that made easy construction of canals and railways and, later, mountain passes in the West; canal barges were faster than wagons, and railroads faster than canals, etc. Many of these same principles apply to insurance claims as well.

If all a visitor to the U.S. ever saw was our network television, then he or she would think that our whole nation was nothing but car wrecks and plaintiff lawyers. Auto insurance is promoted like Kewpie dolls at the county fair: “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up, and get yer cheap auto insurance now!” Are we to assume that auto insurance is going to disappear or something? 

Air was formerly the fastest way to travel, but no longer. By the time one drives to the airport, parks, figures out how to produce a boarding pass from a computerized gizmo, stands in a long line to clear TSA, walks a mile to the departure concourse, awaits a delayed departure or late-arriving crew while jammed into a seat designed for midgets, and does it all in reverse at the destination—perhaps after a change of flight somewhere half way across America—one could have bicycled to the destination faster in some instances. There is a story about a man on a slow train who complained to the conductor about how slow it was. “Well,” replied the conductor, “why don’t you just walk?” The passenger replied, “I would, but nobody is expecting me until the train arrives!”

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