Cars Will Kill Capitalism

money-trap “Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of nature, its own negation.” It is supposed to be crude and wrong to say such things.

Meanwhile, consider this bit of insider planning:

Some media experts have predicted 20%-30% increases for this year’s TV upfront market, in which media buyers will strike deals for commercial time in the fall season, based on early reports of economic recovery. Several key economic indicators are up since last year — durable goods; real retail and food service sales; vehicle sales; and consumer spending — leading to a feeling of optimism among network executives. But a lurking factor could spoil the party: rising gas prices.

The average price of regular unleaded gas has hit $3.68. That’s still shy of the $4.24 high set in June 2008. But what happens if the summer driving season and the unrest in the Middle East pushes gas prices above the summer 2008 levels, above even $5 per gallon? According to Nielsen Wire, a 50-cent increase in gas prices would cost the typical U.S. household about $52.50 per month, and if prices were to rise two dollars, that would mean $210 a month, or more than $2,500 a year. In an economy where job and personal income growth is meager at best, the economic and psychological impact of paying $2,500 more a year for gas can have a profound impact on consumer spending.

A jump in fuel prices also eventually translates to higher transportation costs for marketers, which pass those costs to consumers through increased prices for everything they buy — not just gas. As prices rise and inflation ensues, the Federal Reserve could be forced to raise interest rates, which would hurt the still floundering housing market.

At times like these, retailers need to protect their brick-and-mortar businesses. When shoppers go online, there is clearly less foot traffic in traditional stores. Rising shipping costs also eat into the retail profit structure. Either way, retailers are squeezed.

Heading into the upfronts, then, smart marketers and media buyers should consider whether the hike in gas prices will be short-lived or whether it will trigger a longer economic downturn that alters consumer behavior and shopping patterns.

This is from Hank Cohen, CEO of KSL Media, the independent media planning and buying agency, via Advertising Age.

This is not going to be a passing problem, either. Capitalists are institutionally addicted to cars-first transportation. Cars-first transportation in the United States obliges huge use of petroleum. Peak oil ensures that huge use of petroleum will be an increasing choke on the possibility of economic growth. Catch-22.

Meanwhile, thanks to the premium on keeping the capitalist addiction out of sight, the topic remains undiscussed and undiscussable in mainstream venues.

The Enemy: Cars or Capitalists?

david_suzuki David Suzuki is calling for a real war on cars.

That’s wonderful, especially coming from a person who has as much access to media as Dr. Suzuki.

Nevertheless, I feel obliged to note that Suzuki provides a rather feeble and technocratic definition of the problem at hand.  While enumerating some of the costs of cars-first transportation and naming some of the major personalities in the budding reaction against transportation reform, Suzuki offers only this diagnosis of what we’re ultimately up against:

“If there is or has been a war on cars, the cars are winning. Cars — often with a single occupant — still rule our cities and roadways.”

Certainly, there are few scientists in the world as well-informed and well-rounded as Dr. Suzuki.  Hence, he must know that the above sentence is a major piece of technological fetishism, a.k.a. forgetting that machines always express the human purposes of their designers and promoters.  But, nonetheless, Suzuki leaves his diagnosis of the enemy at that: cars.

But, cars don’t rule our highways. Cars don’t, in fact, do anything but embody the purposes for which they are designed and promoted.  What are those purposes, who sets them, and for what reason?  How important are those reasons to their primary beneficiaries?  Suzuki doesn’t say.

The truth, of course, is that the prevalence of both automobiles and their roadways within our lifespaces is first and foremost due to the power of our big business-based overclass, which is institutionally addicted to perpetuating cars-first transportation, regardless of the costs and dangers of doing so.  Our ultimate problem is not, then, that cars rule our highways.  It is that corporate capitalists rule our society and our lives.

Meanwhile, if we progressive survivalists remain too timid even to name the people and institutions we’re really up against, we will not only continue to lose potential allies (in my experience, people, including suburban SUV owners, generally know when they’re being soft-sold), but also continue to misunderstand the nature and gravity of the struggle we face.  A real war on cars is going to take epic work and epic honesty.  Techno-talk at the City Council, though important and necessary, is not going to get us to a decent future.

To quote Lisa Simpson, the truth must be told, and soon.

Old Wine, New Bottle

electric fire So, the diversionary pipedream of the electric car continues to roll out, as the tyranny of capitalist decision-making prevents all admission of its inherent idiocy.

Meanwhile, dig this new wrinkle:

The Chicago Tribune…reported that by the time Chicago’s 73 direct-current fast-charging stations are installed next January, they could be mostly obsolete. That’s because the Chicago system is using a Japanese-developed charging protocol and there’s a big effort in the U.S. to adopt a difference standard for rapid charging.

The charging stations are priced at $65,000 each, and the cost of a retrofit on top of that is unclear.

SAE is considering the Japanese protocol, but the group is under pressure from General Motors and other automakers to not use the outlet that is compatible with the Leaf and the i-MiEV in part to create a problem for their makers.

Ah, false difference and phony obsolescence. Same as it ever was.

The Straight Dope on Democracy in the Middle East

cat-bag Here at DbC, we are willing to observe that, for the U.S. overclass, the great fear, the worst possible outcome, in regions where petroleum supplies remain somewhat abundant, is secular democracy. For those who know their history, any other interpretation is simply propaganda. The facts are stark.

It is, of course, a very rare day when the commercial media expose the core truth to the U.S. public, even for a flash.

Yesterday was such a day. If you happened to be watching the CBS Evening News, you might have caught this quotation from the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, one Richard N. Haass:

“On the other hand, we have traditional friends in this part of the world. We don’t want to be seen as pulling out the rug from a number of regimes that by and large have supported real U.S. interests in terms of access to energy, opposition to terrorism, some limited willingness to live with Israel. So, for this Administration, this [the regional democratic uprising] is about as important but also as difficult as it gets.”

It is no accident that “access to energy” leads the CFR’s list of issues, or that the present exceedingly clear and simple moment — which for once is indeed an unambiguous movement toward democracy — is “as difficult as it gets” for the powers that be in our market-totalitarian society.

Non-Turning Point

cliff-drive Here at DbC, we track the sociology of overclass heedlessness. How could we not, given that the automobile is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of the phenomenon?

So, anyhow, here we are, living in a world of Peak Oil, more and bigger impending oil shocks, and eventual extraordinary misery. What, at this very late moment, remains “the world’s primary manufacturing industry?” That’s right: the one that turns out 4,000-pound petroleum and coal burning machines that sit idle for 95 percent of their lives.

In fact, the news is worse than that. The car industry is not just still #1. It is still expanding:

A new J.D. Power forecast said global auto sales will likely set a new record this year.

The consulting firm said it expects global light vehicle sales of 76.5 million units in 2011, 6% higher than the existing record of 72 million light vehicles sold in 2010.

And somebody said capital is heedless of the health and welfare of the species, unless compelled by society!

“Transportation” Research

rubeprof Academic “transportation” research makes business schools and economics departments look like hotbeds of pure science.  Both the US Department of Transportation and all the university-based “centers” it shepherds continue to exist to pave the way for more cars-first outcomes, regardless of the screamingly obvious need of this society for radical movement away from automobiles.

Doubt that? Consider this typical item, an announcement of one of the sponsors’ pet assignments:

RITA 1-11
Monday, January 24, 2011

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) today announced the Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge, a new national competition seeking ideas for using wireless connectivity between vehicles to make transportation safer, greener and easier.

Through the competition, RITA is soliciting ideas for products or applications that use Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), an advanced wireless technology, similar to WiFi but faster and more secure. DSRC can communicate basic messages – such as alerts about imminent crash situations or roadway hazards – from one vehicle to another in a fraction of a second with minimal interference and without manipulation by the driver. The spectrum used by DSRC technology has been reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for transportation applications.

“This is an example of new technology helping to make transportation safer and more efficient,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

DSRC will be the basis for a future system of connected vehicles that will communicate with each other as well as the surrounding infrastructure, such as traffic signals, work zones and toll booths. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, wireless Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications can potentially address 81 percent of all unimpaired vehicle crashes.

“This technology is an opportunity to help create a future where millions of vehicles communicate with each other by sharing anonymous real-time information about traffic speeds and conditions. This new world of wireless communication will make transportation safer, provide better and faster exchange of information for vastly improved daily and long-distance travel, and even reduce environmental pollution,” said RITA Administrator Peter Appel.

Selected prize recipients will receive funded opportunities to present their winning ideas to unleash a new breed of advanced wireless technologies to make universal vehicle connectivity a reality.

The Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge is open to all idea generators and innovators, including those not working in the transportation industry. It will run from Jan. 24 through May 1 and competition rules and additional details can be found at www.Challenge.gov.

So, first of all, this is research aimed at making cars behave more like trains, the vastly superior technology which, in order to facilitate corporate capitalism in the great United States, they have been permitted to replace.

Second, two words: Rube Goldberg.  Let’s see a show of hands from those who believe the solicited pipedream could ever: a) work properly (imagine a “rush-hour”* freeway on which the imagined “more secure” moving, ad hoc, high-interference computer network crashed or encoutered a virus!) and b) be accepted, paid for, and correctly maintained by the nation’s legions of tailgating, lane-hopping, cell-phoning, radar-detecting road-ragers.

Another item our grandchildren will find amazing, if we somehow transcend such suicidal idiocies and manage to leave them a society with the capacity to remember and learn from our stunning world-historic errors.

*One of the most blatant of our epoch’s many Orwellian linguistic inversions.

China and Carmageddon

beijing-traffic In case you missed it, China’s state capitalists are now saying that they are pushing to be manufacturing 40 million automobiles a year by 2020.

It will be interesting to see if capitalism makes it that far without the onset of the mother of all depressions.  Personally, I doubt it.

But this news is extremely important, nonetheless.  Not only does it support the thesis that few things can boost corporate capitalism like cars, but it is also an enormous indictment of China’s worst-of-both-worlds overclass.  If their efforts come to fruition, they will spell catastrophe for the Chinese people.

Halo-Ware

satanvolt The arrival of greenwashing as a top priority in corporate capitalism’s core industrial complex is expanding and refining the art and science of halo-ware as a 21st-century marketing strategy. “Halo products” are newfangled loss-leaders designed to provide cover for business-as-usual.

Two times in just the past week, Automotive News, an insider gossip and news publication, has mentioned the h-word in its reporting on forthcoming “green cars”:

October 1, reporting on the pathetic gas-electric hybrid Chevy Volt:

The Volt is being marketed as a “halo car” to underscore GM’s green credentials.

October 4, reporting on the “fashion-statement” (translation: over-priced, under-efficient) subcompact Fiat 500:

Jesse Toprak, analyst for TrueCar.com, believes the 500’s Italian design will help those Chrysler dealers who win the franchise to lure new customers. “The halo effect of this car and the utility of this car will grab younger clientele and early adopters,” he says.

“Green cars,” of course, are not the only major form of halo-ware. “Green energy” is right there, too, if the truth be told.

Now They Tell You

pigtrough After a century of maximizing profits by working in precisely the opposite direction, U.S. car capitalists are now saying this:

“There will be less than 30, on our way to 20 to 25,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in response to questions on the future lineup of nameplates after addressing the Confederation of British Industry in London. “Fewer brands means you can put more focus into improving the quality of engineering.”

All the while before this reversal, these creeps were spending scores of millions to propagandize you about “Quality is Job 1.”

[source: Bloomberg via Automotive News]