According to Apple’s cell phone tracking data, driving automobiles in the United States is down from normal by about 1/3. [Note: See line 148 of the underlying spreadsheet.]
As a result of this one-third reduction, U.S. freeways and streets are now, in the experience of your humble DbC editor, operating roughly like they are supposed to operate. Traffic jams have become truly rare, and travel times pretty reliably approximate what distances and speed limits together suggest they should.
The obvious conclusion from this natural-experimental result is that our existing automobile facilities are under-built by some factor that explains all the headaches and waste of normal automobile travel. That factor has to be at least 1/3 — and might be higher, since there are probably issues of greater-than-1:1 scaling in the infrastructures that would have to exist in order to allow the now-missing 1/3 of normal automobile traffic to enjoy the optimal results now occurring in these abnormal, reduced-use conditions.
So, in order to allow today’s stock of automobiles to work as advertised, we would need to have about twice as much roadway capacity as we now do.
Likewise, if we were to try to sustain this level of functionality, all future accommodation of still-more automobiles (i.e. the normal plan and assumption) would have to be roughly twice as big as we are accustomed to such projects being.
The fact that we don’t (and won’t, and could not) provide such accommodation speaks not just to the material and geo-spatial insanity of cars-first transportation, but also to the gargantuan time-theft that inheres in it, under corporate capitalist normalcy — something, btw, that our overclass is positively quivering to reopen/re-impose.
The automobile dominates the United States because it is the best possible platform for advancing the cause of sellable waste, which is itself a systemic requirement for the perpetuation of corporate capitalism.
Corporate capitalism, by design, commodifies everything and mal-distributes income. As a result, it paints its own primary beneficiaries into a corner, even as it sustains their obscene wealth and increasingly decrepit power. As silly products proliferate and the bottom 2/3 of the population goes without discretionary income, it gets harder and harder for corporate marketers to sell new rounds of goods and services. The only possible answer, from the perspective of the investing class, is selling more and more waste to people who still have money to spend.
The ultimate corporate capitalist waste platform is the private automobile. Within a publicly-provided cars-first infrastructure, such machines are not only themselves spectacularly and optimally wasteful, but also enable and stimulate the second great vector for profitable squander, the suburban house-and-yard.
For cars themselves, the ultimate dream for capitalists would be the one described in The Waste Makers, Vance Packard’s 1960 non-fiction best-seller:
The motorcars of Cornucopia will be made of a lightweight plastic that develops fatigue and begins to melt if driven for more than four thousand miles.
That, of course, was an illustrative exaggeration. Individual car owners will not tolerate such directly obvious capitalist tactics. They demand some longevity with their waste.
But consider what we will tolerate collectively: For car-sellers, Hurricane Harvey is very good news, for exactly Packard’s reason. Per today’s edition of Automotive News:
With the storm potentially having damaged 1 million vehicles in Houston, the rush is on in states near and far to acquire and ship new ones into the city.
“We see multi-faceted benefits to new vehicle sales, new vehicle inventories, and used vehicle prices,” Ryan Brinkman, an auto analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in a report Tuesday. Prior to Harvey, weak used-car values had been one of investors’ “chief concerns” with the auto industry, he said.
Such is the stuff of 2017. Our grandchildren will never stop vomiting.
Of course, in market-totalitarian America, “America” means corporate capitalists. Hence, we find the U.S. Energy Secretary out pimping for extension of the reign of human history’s most wasteful lifeblood-to-a–ruling-system product. As reported by Automotive News:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Energy wants auto suppliers to know that it still has $16 billion in low-interest financing available to support efficient-vehicle programs, and it wants them to step forward for a share of those funds. The department’s lending authority comes under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which Congress created in 2007. Early in the Obama administration, the Department of Energy used the program to lend about $8.4 billion to Ford, Nissan, Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive. Suppliers were always eligible, but none secured funding. Now, under Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the program is being overhauled to make it easier to fund production of technologies such as lightweight materials, efficient engines and low-friction tires.
The changes that Moniz announced today include legal clarifications to show that suppliers are eligible for the program, a promise to respond more quickly to applicants and the creation of a new online application portal.
Moniz announced the program changes on Wednesday during a speech to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, or MEMA, a trade group representing auto suppliers.
“Today we are presented with an opportunity to hit the accelerator on U.S. auto manufacturing growth,” Moniz said.
To restate: In the year 2014, the person in charge of solving the nation’s energy challenges is bragging about “hitting the accelerator” on making automobiles.
Cars are marketing platforms, ever-expanding rolling heaps of profit-yielding geegaws. Hence, they are mandatory in market-totalitarian America.
The latest “innovation”? Devices that actually increase the noise inside a car:
Sound Symposer: Amplifies engine sounds to provide enhanced soundtrack for drivers tackling the open road. Unique for Fiesta ST in that it is the first time the sound is directly fed into the passenger cabin.
DbC hereby proposes a new National Museum of Late-Capitalist Insanities. The NMLCI will be dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of items and ideas characteristic of our epoch, with an eye to allowing a) the presently sane, b) future generations, and/or c) future extraterrestrial archaeologists to contemplate just how far out of touch our overclass and our culture have become.
Given the massive irrationality yet absolute political-economic centrality of the effort to perpetuate cars-first transportation in the face of obvious, directly associated impending disasters, there could be no better first NMLCI exhibit than the object at right, the 1,200-pound, “safe as possible,” 3-d “printed” Urbee car.
The rank pipedreams preserved in this pet project of Canadian engineer-capitalist Jim Kor are truly NMCLI-worthy:
For starters, the sales slogan is “Urbee: The Natural Way to Drive.” What could possibly be more un-natural than using immensely intricate and wasteful, 95% idle machines to accomplish mundane intra-village locomotion?
The rest of the proposal is about ecological conservation. Once again, what could possibly be more ecologically idiotic than using immensely intricate and wasteful, 95% idle machines to accomplish mundane intra-village locomotion? Without even mentioning fuel and manufacturing issues, you can get 40 bicycles for 1,200 pounds of final mass, and bicycles are orders of magnitude simpler and easier to repair and preserve.
As for “safe as possible,” who wants to ride in this glorified golf cart with moped wheels on American roads, around all these SUVs and delivery trucks? Hands?
The fact that such elementary realities are missed by an engineer speaks tomes about the prevalence of magical thinking in our doddering profit-driven social order.