The Free Market in Action

oil waves

Now questions are sure to be raised about a self-policing system that trusted a commercial operator to take care of its own mishap even as it grew into a menace imperiling Gulf Coast nature and livelihoods from Florida to Texas.

Will this be Obama’s Katrina? Should the federal and state governments have done more, and earlier? Did they learn the lessons of the devastating hurricane?

CBS News

Golly, I wonder…

We believe in capitalism; we believe in people getting rich.” — Barack Obama

ROFLMAO.  The lessons at hand are of no interest to Zerobama and everybody else in our bought and sold, election-by-dollars political system.

Parking: Private Pork

pigs trough Our overclass has done such a bang-up job demonizing public spending and public enterprise, nobody ever bothers to comment on the vast, ecocidal private-sector waste on which the corporate economy utterly relies.

The cardinal form of such waste is cars-first transportation, to which corporate shareholders are intractably addicted.

The lavishness and logic of the waste entailed can be appraised by these facts about the construction of parking spaces for automobiles, as reported by UCLA’s Donald Shoup:

Urban planners often ask questions about parking requirements. The Planning Advisory Service of the American Planning Association (1991, 1) reports that it “receives hundreds of requests each year about off-street parking requirements for different land uses–in fact, we receive more requests year after year on this topic than on any other.” Yet, to my knowledge, urban planning education offers students no instruction in how to set parking requirements.

Urban planning textbooks offer no help in learning to set parking requirements. Consider the four editions of Urban Land Use Planning by F. Stuart Chopin and his coauthors (Chapin 1957, 1965; Chopin and Kaiser 1979; Kaiser, Godschalk, and Chapin 1995). This distinguished text is considered the “bible” of urban land use planning, yet no edition mentions parking requirements.

What possible explanation could there be for this, other than that the system needs to make sure that business requirements always and everywhere easily trump engineering calculations?

Meanwhile, here is the method deployed in actual construction practice:

The only source of data that systematically relates parking demand to land use is Parking Generation, published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.  The ITE (1987) reports the “parking generation rate” for 64 different land uses, from airports to warehouses.  The parking generation rate for each land use is defined as the average peak parking demand observed in case studies…. The objective of the survey is to count the number of vehicles parked at the time of peak parking demand.

Even this peak “parking generation” number, however, is not enough for cars-first:

Planners often set minimum parking requirements higher than the ITE parking generation rates. For example, a survey of 33 cities in nine southeastern states found that parking requirements averaged 3.7 spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space, or 32 percent higher than the ITE parking generation rate of 2.79 spaces per 1,000 square feet (Polanis and Price 1991, 32). Similarly, a survey of 117 cities in California found that parking requirements averaged 3.8 spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space, or 36 percent higher than the ITE parking generation rate (Shoup 1995, 18).

The generous parking capacity required by planners often goes unused. Studying office buildings in ten California cities, Richard Willson (1995) found that the peak parking demand averaged only 56 percent of capacity. Gruen Associates (1986) found that peak parking demand at nine suburban office parks near Philadelphia and San Francisco averaged only 47 percent of capacity, and that no office park had a peak parking demand greater than 60 percent of capacity. The Urban Land Institute (1982, 12) found that the recommended parking requirements for shopping centers provide a surplus of parking spaces for all but nineteen hours a year, and leave at least half of all spaces vacant for more than 40 percent of the time a shopping center is open for business.

Mugyenyi and Engler on China’s Replication of Cars-First Policy

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.

Captain Renault is Shocked

Turns out that the “loan” to Chrysler by the Zerobama Administration was indeed just another give-away to corporate shareholders:

Under an outline already approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gonzalez Jan. 21, the remainder of the company will wind down, giving the U.S. no predicted recovery on its $5 billion loan under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The “free market” in action, folks.

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.

Physically Separated?

One logical effect of the corporate capitalists’ century-long cars-first transportation dictatorship in America has been the thorough intimidation of even its most ardent critics.  With that in mind, see if you can guess what the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition agrees to call the reality depicted in this photograph:

To quote the SFBC:

According to a press release issued today by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, “Responding to the growing interest in bicycle transportation, the city began installing its first physically separated bike lane on Market Street today.

“Physically separated”? From 3,000-pound rolling metal boxes?  Seriously, SFBC?  Looks like even the slightest, most feathery concessions can bowl you right over.

Meanwhile, the DoubleSpeak involved in U.S. transportation planning rolls merrily along, aided by even the would-be reformers.

Freedom Machines?

Car marketers (a.k.a. corporate capitalists) peddle their monumentally wasteful and dangerous products as indispensable bundles of joy and comfort.

Curious then, how the three happiest countries in the world rank in the motor vehicles per capita department:

Denmark: #1 in happiness, #28 in automobiles per person

Switzerland: #2 in happiness, #15 in automobiles per person

Austria: #3 in happiness, #10 in automobiles per person

And how does the USA, by far the world’s most car-intensive society rank in terms of human happiness?

We’re #23.

Biofuels as Propaganda

A year ago, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson granted Business Week magazine an interview.  The BW reporter asked him about alternative fuels:

Tillerson told reporters in January that Exxon isn’t investing in existing alternative energy technology because “we think these technologies are old. If there is going to be a fundamental shift” away from fossil fuels, the technology “hasn’t been discovered.”

Tillerson allows that a shift from fossil fuels is coming, but not for decades. Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will continue to supply 60% of the world’s energy needs through 2030, and that a “game-changing” shift to alternatives will begin only after 2050.

Fancy, then, the “algae-based biofuels” television ad being run by Exxon-Mobil at present.

Rather a huge gap between what Exxon tells the business press and what it would have the general public believe, no?

This is more stark evidence that so-called “alternative fuels” are an intentional distraction, rather than a real answer.  To corporate planners in the auto-industrial complex, biodiesel and its cousins are not, as Exxon-Mobil would have us rubes believe it believes, a serious path to a better future.  They are merely a diversionary marketing trick promulgated to buy the overclass the chance to finish extracting as much wealth as possible from cars-first transportation, before it implodes. After that, the deluge, as always.

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the press plays its mis-reporting role in all this with fine and true fidelity.  Googling “Exxon algae” produces scores of headlines trumpeting Exxon-Mobil’s “major” investment of $600 million in algae biofuel research last year.  A real journalist would ask:  Was that investment serious, or merely a marketing device, a PR-supporting gimmick?

One simple way to answer that question would be to compare the scale of the ballyhooed algae “investment” against Exxon-Mobil’s basic finances.

Anybody doing so would see that $600 million is 1.3 percent of Exxon-Mobil’s 2008 book profits, or, more coservatively, a whopping 3.1 percent of its 2009 profits.

This is major investment?  Not quite.

By the way, it would also be hard to find a 30-second advertisement that packs in a higher quantum of brazen lies than this algae ad.  Take a look.  It’s quite Orwellian.

“Algae are beautiful.”  Irrelevant, and calculatedly so.

“We could runs our cars.”  Nobody disputes that diesel can be made from algae, but the relevant question is could we conceivably run the nation’s or the world’s existing auto fleet on algae fuel?  No fucking way, as CEO Tillerson knows and admits to his corporate peers.

“Not competing with the food supply.”  Sheer, massive, in-your-face falsity.  To make any dent in fueling automobiles, algae farms would have to devour enormous tracts of arable land.  Nobody eats algae. It isn’t corn or even sugar cane.  But, nonetheless, serious algae farming would take land and lots of it.

“Help solve the greenhouse problem.”  Again, sheer, defiant, Big Brotherian prevarication.  Exxon knows all too well that it would take enormous amounts of fossil fuels to build and run an algae biofuel farming and distilling infrastructure.   In fact, given biofuels’ terrible existing and potential EROEI rates, it is virtually certain that far more fossil fuels would be used in running cars on algae-derived diesel than would, in the absence of such a scheme, get burned by automobiles under existing arrangements.  All of which explains why Tillerson and Exxon do not, in fact, take algae or any other “alternative fuel” seriously, except as devices of salesmanship.

Cato Courts Mad Max

The Buffalo-Bill-in-a-K-Mart-suit at left is the eminent Randal O’Toole, a “senior policy scholar” specializing in transportation issues at the unintentionally hilarious Cato Institute.

Cato, you might know, is the “think tank” and lobbying group that says its mission “is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace,” all while endorsing virtually every corporate capitalist scheme that comes down the pike, despite the blatant, active, intentional, and intractable incompatibility of actually existing capitalism with small government, free markets, individual liberty, and/or peace.

In any event, one such scheme that Cato insists is somehow a product of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace, rather than lavishly orchestrated Big Business insistence and coercion, is the United States’ cars-first transportation order.  Just ask Senior Scholar O’Toole, who states that “the automobile…is accessible to almost every family in the nation and provides unparalleled access to better housing, low-cost consumer goods, a choice-driven affordable life, and freedom.”

According to O’Toole, who earned his Senior Scholar in Transportation status at Cato by studying the highly relevant disciplines of forestry and economics, the main problem with our cars-first system is not its radically wasteful, patently unsustainable, war-encouraging energy requirements, but merely traffic congestion (itself allegedly caused by poor public policies rather than the mechanical and spatial logistics of cars-first travel).

The answer to that, our one and only transportation crisis, in the analysis of O’Toole?  Shift money away from public transportation projects and into “adaptive cruise control” and eventual perfection of the “completely automated vehicle.” Robot cars, in other words, will save the world.

Among other things, Cato apparently now pays O’Toole to travel the country and implant his melange of fantasies and lies into tea-baggers meeting at suburban country clubs.

If we survive capitalism’s implosion, our grandchildren will want to study this remarkable stuff as evidence of how utterly batshit crazy our society was driven by its ruling class’s self-flattering, reality-denying ideology.  It’s entirely as deluded as anything Nero or Montezuma or Louis XIV ever imagined, and far more dangerous, given the stakes involved, which are now planetary in scale.