Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

dunce boyQ: Why is the FICA tax a percentage, while federal, state, and local gasoline taxes are fixed, named numbers?

A: Corporate capitalism is addicted to cars-first transportation, and must therefore increase its public subsidy over time.

This is especially true in systemically normal times, during which the masses lose economic ground to the overclass.  In other words, keeping the Bubbas driving is more important than keeping them fed, clothed, sheltered, insured, or anything else.

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Nostra-Drill-Us

nostradamus A comrade at The Oil Drum, watching British Petroleum’s attempts to stop the catastrophic Horizon Deepwater blowout with drilling mud, wrote:

I do think that when this whole tense episode is finally over and done with, it just might turn out to be one of those truly defining moments that changes our collective view about energy and what we’re willing to pay to keep getting it in the ways we’ve taken for granted.

That would be grand. But I would wager very heavily against it. Substantially reducing our oil acquisition efforts would be a grave threat to cars-first transportation in the United States. Threatening cars-first transportation is threatening corporate capitalism, which could not survive the loss of the automotive-industrial sector. Hence, there will be intense, coordinated efforts to pour political mud down our windpipes if and when control over the undersea gusher arrives.

For what it’s worth, as posted at TOD, here is my own prediction of what will happen after the blowout gets sealed or the relief wells come on line in August or September:

What makes you think our collective view is going to start receiving consideration? Nothing could be more threatening to the continuance of corporate capitalism. There will be much hand-wringing, a few monkey trials, and another toughening of the regulations. Then deep-water drilling will resume in full. Nothing else is possible, barring a major social upheaval.

This is just a 6-month whirlpool in the status quo.

I pray I’m wrong here, but that’s my assessment.

It’s also possible, of course, that it will prove to be impossible to stop the oil blowout, or that Top Kill and/or the relief wells will make the blowout worse. In that case, the Gulf of Mexico may be completely ruined for centuries to come, if it isn’t already. In that terrible case, the odds of an uprising increase substantially, as the elite palliatives will be very hard to sell, even in this distracted, TV-addicted land.

As to the rest of the residents of the region, seems to me this will put more fuel in the tank of the Latin American left. How will Mexico and Colombia, for instance, be able to cope with the consequences of a dying Gulf while also preserving their radically inegalitarian and hidebound socio-political orders? How will US overlords be able to continue punishing and demonizing Cuba and Venezuela in the face of the extreme damages and hardships they are sure to face? Hugo and Fidel didn’t cause this Eco-Fuck. Our own naked emperors did, undeniably.

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Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler, who are apparently writing the same book as me, have a highly valuable report on today’s Counterpunch.

traffic jam Apparently, China’s Stalinist-capitalist ruling class has quite consciously copied the American system/unchecked corporate capitalism’s somewhat more bumbling but still tightly logical pursuit of cars-first transportation as a pillar industry:

According to Mugyenyi and Engler:

The Chinese government understands, in the words of The Economist, that “the car industry more or less invented modern industrial capitalism.” Which is why, according to The Financial Times; “China’s car-centred model of development has been a mainstay of economic growth in recent years…the spin-off benefits from burgeoning car sales have been enormous. Each car requires several thousand parts, hundreds – if not thousands – of suppliers, roads, car parks, driving schools, petrol stations and other service industries.”

For the past 75 years the automobile has been the number one source of capitalist profit. An industry with a voracious and varied appetite, automakers are among the leading consumers of copper, aluminum, plastics, iron, lead, rubber, textiles, vinyl, computer chips and steel. 9 of the world’s 10 biggest corporations in 2007 were car and oil companies (Walmart, the largest, is highly dependent on the private automobile).

The Communist Party has worked vigorously for China to join this capitalist heaven. In 1994, the auto industry was named one of five “pillar industries” by the government. “The Chinese government wants to emulate America’s rise to industrial glory by making the car industry a pillar of economic growth,” noted The Economist.

So, it looks like the USA and China, through car-induced energy waste and oil war, are going to be the center stages on which the human race will either make it or break it in this pivotal century.  Killing cars-first is an absolute requirement, and hence a very high priority, for those of us living in the belly of these beasts.

Keep an eye out for Mugyenyi and Engler’s book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay, which Yves Engler says will be out in 2011.

My own book, Courting Carmageddon: Capitalism, Transportation, and the Approaching Collapse of the United States, should appear around the same time, from Monthly Review Press.

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Europe Exposed

gridlock Icelandic ash is presently exposing the extent to which Europeans have permitted their transportation arrangements to be stupidly built.  According to today’s New York Times, there are now about 28,000 daily airline flights in Europe.  This, in the land of walkable/bikable cities, world-class trains, and supposedly relaxed time attitudes?

According to the Times, the volcano’s grounding of these airplanes has meant that “millions of…travelers were left with no realistic options, caught in a web of misery that reached across the globe.”

Meanwhile, according to Transport Revolutions, by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, intercity electric rail is ten times more energy efficient than intercity air flight.  (See page 240.)

Add to this the fact that because (despite their far superior welfare states) Europeans remain subordinate to corporate capitalism, they have also been allowing their elites to push cars on them.  Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have even pursued their own versions of the monumentally corrupt and stupid “cash-for-clunkers” subsidy.

Conclusion?  Europe has its own need for radical reconstruction to achieve anything resembling sustainable transportation.

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