Monday, August 03, 2009

Cash for Cluelessness

I admit that I once owned an 8 cylinder Chevy Suburban, a true gas guzzler...that was 1985. Before then and since, I have driven much lighter cars and since around 1990, I have often left the car home and gotten to work on a bicycle.

That history divulged, I will chance being called a hypocrite to tell you what I have felt about the automobile since my high school days when tail fins and tyrannosaurs roamed the earth.

It is a cheap thrill for some apes, and perhaps a necessary evil for the hapless working class who can not find work where they live or live where they can find work. Buckminster Fuller was one of the more prominent but hardly the earliest voices to question the massive per capita use of petroleum, metals and other resources to which the automotive addiction [and the severely dysfunctional use of land that goes with the addiction] committed us. The vision of the conventional automobile and its usage patterns as arch nemesis of sustainability was not exactly his message. He also thought more technology could be applied to help us live as well on less resources. His book "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" was old news by the time I read it in the late 60's. Having been taken on as a kind of manifesto for the technically inclined hippie and tossed as kookie by most others, its influence is far less than it prescience about our resource-starved present would justify. That is not the only source of my revulsion at the clumsy dirty machines, the love of which we subsidize, but it was important intellectual support. I also have youthful associations of noisy cars with bullies and negligent scholarship. The car was, in my formative years, a cultural institution to rival the black holes of gambling and public drunkenness [the latter has been radically exacerbated in both opportunity and severity of consequences by the illusory freedom to escape that advertisers use to promote car ownership.]

That is not all I can say about my bad reaction to one of the pillars of both our economy and our culture but enough of that. Suffice it to say that since GM and Chrysler are sucking up billions of YOUR dollars on life support, you are owed a moment of sanity: the pillars of life in this allegedly great nation are rotting out from under you. I have not the time nor you the patience for me to explain to you that from a fundamentally economic perspective, the collapse was inevitable. That explanation would be one that puts the whole of our support system: the resources we acquire at severe political cost, the resources do we command: coal, air, water, iron, health and the costs to patch up bodies corroded by lives lived in cars...and the money that makes all those resources fungible... all counted on the ledger. Saying that collapse was inevitable and that any, ANY, reasonable extrapolation of consumption trends since the 60's amounts to a set of tracks ending at an ecological and economic cliff is unnecessary because we are at the cliff now. Plenty of smart and far sighted people already did that didn't listen to them either. I am making plans to jump off the train since it won't even slow down.

Won't even slow down. The same psychology as ever quietly commands the body politic: "I don't want to know the ultimate costs of any ploy of government/industry as long as it minimizes my immediate discomfort or protects me from the scary, the unfamiliar effort or privation". The same corporations, oil companies, and automobile companies, that benefited from congressional dispensation will continue to benefit based on the excuse of the jobs they represent in spite of the now obvious fact that the future they represent is one of empty shelves, uprooted lives, dirt and want. The corporations still have vastly disproportionate representation via lobbies and representation that speaks far better for the largest blocks of share holders than for individual workers or families. We will always see congressional creativity in new forms of subsidies overt or subtle. In the past we have had tax funded highways, tariffs on imported cars, tax breaks on car loan interest...a long and varied list to which we now add "cash for clunkers". We seem bent on rewarding the very stupidest behavior. Now, I who can pay more taxes because I have spent far less of my family wealth on cars, will pay more in taxes now and later so that you morons who bought SUVs long after they became the laughing stock of the ecologically minded, can get a do-over. A do-over of the mistake of buying a car at my expense financially and at my expense environmentally...this program sucks.

And if you think you can tolerate the suckage because at least the dupes will be driving more fuel efficient and less polluting cars, please consider:
  • They will have to buy a Japanese car or a [German owned] "Smart" car to get anywhere above 38 MPG average. American worker's benefit from this will be much less than advertised.
  • Another ton of iron will be mined or refined and another ton of coal burnt to make the replacement car. A comprehensive analysis factoring in more than job-angst would have us just drive the clunkers more slowly and trade them in when they were really ready to trade.

Its a hoax, folks. The popularity is just a tip-off on how fatuous the fans of this "solution" are.

At one time or another, we have given Detroit and Dallas [1]every conceivable advantage using the general revenues of this nation. Now, populism provides a willing if blind alliance of the least conscientious consumers and the least conscientious industries to raid the coffers when they are already empty by the accounting standards that your bank would apply to you.

Did you think XOM was an oil company? If they were an oil company they would need a headquarters in the oil patch but I doubt they drill much oil on K street yet profit spectacularly. Like almost any other corporation, the sole logic of their existence is profit...they are a profit company more than an oil company. Hence the nice HQ office by the beltway. Your government and your oil company are so very much in bed together you probably can't tell who is on top unless you rip off the covers.

UPDATE: I drove a car today. It was someone else's hybrid Honda Civic. It was starting to get less than 45 MPG and I got the chore to have it serviced. The owner has a light foot on the gas pedal but then the dash board of a hybrid is actually a highly effective biofeedback video game to reprogram your driving habits. On the way back from the tune up, I caught this piece on NPR...wha'd I tell you?.

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