Exactly What Are We Bailing Out?

The Tweedledums gave away a trillion dollars to the vultures in charge of juggling the great growing wodges of surplus capital* the overclass can’t find a place to invest productively.

A day or two after his victory, the Tweedle-D’s new President-elect revealed that his idea of “helping the middle class” is another give-away — this time, to the U.S.-based automobile corporations!

Now, Tweedle-D Party Radio, a.k.a. “Air America Radio,” has its stable of parrots squawking about what a grand, populist, commoner-helping thing this is “bailout” would be.

And, even as I type, the CEOs who pay themselves king’s ransoms to destroy the planet, squander its finite supply of energy, and murder 40,000 of their countrymen every year are up on Capitol Hill, begging bowls out and solemn professions of socio-economic concern/threat on their caviared lips.

What a freaking crock! Let’s take a quick peek at what’s actually being proposed here, shall we?

A Hybrid Mega-Turd
A "Hybrid" Mega-Turd

The monstrosity depicted at left is the sort of “cutting edge” new technology that is the supposed point and promise of a post-bailout Detroit. It is, you see, a “hybrid” Cadillac Escalade! It has an electric motor to complement its conventional V8! Dare we dream of such a gloriously transformed future? I swoon.

No, wait, I’m outraged.

Even the “car enthusiast” motorheads who write automobile reviews for The New York Times can spot this portentous scam:

You can coax the Escalade Hybrid into electric-only mode, same as a Prius, but if you need to accelerate at all, or go up the slightest hill, or go faster than 30 miles an hour, you awaken the 332-horsepower V-8 under the hood.

Therein lies the dilemma of this truck: its mileage is great compared with a regular Escalade’s, but that’s like saying the American economy is great compared with Zimbabwe’s.

I managed to eke out 22.3 miles a gallon on one highway-biased trip, and about 20 m.p.g. over all. The hybrid system’s benefit is most pronounced in urban driving, where Cadillac claims a 50 percent improvement in fuel economy. (The gas-only Escalade is rated 12 m.p.g. in town, 18 on the highway, with all-wheel drive.)

Bizarrely, the Environmental Protection Agency does not provide mileage estimates for the four-wheel-drive Escalade Hybrid because its weight vaults it into the category of heavy-duty trucks, which need not be rated.

To create the Escalade Hybrid and its full-size Chevrolet and GMC siblings, G.M. cooperated with BMW and the former DaimlerChrysler to develop a mind-boggling hybrid transmission that can deploy two 60-kilowatt electric motors in tandem with a gas engine, operating either in continuously variable mode or through four fixed gears.

The system also captures regenerative braking energy and uses an auto-stop feature to minimize idling. Using this technology, G.M. can wring more than 20 m.p.g. out of its full-size S.U.V.’s.

But we’re still talking about a three-ton truck. Mercedes boasts that a 200-pound man can sit atop a C-Class door without damaging the hinges; with the Escalade, it feels as if the 200-pound-man is already inside the door.

What if, instead of all the hybrid trickery, you simply subtracted 1,000 pounds of weight, using unibody construction and a direct-injection V-6 engine paired with a conventional six-speed automatic? Couldn’t you have an equally posh and enormous three-row interior with all-wheel-drive and 20 m.p.g. economy? You certainly could, because I just described the Buick Enclave, a vehicle in G.M.’s own portfolio that underscores the Escalade Hybrid’s Rube Goldberg approach to efficiency.

Of course, what the Times‘ auto critic is never going to tell you is that automobiles — all automobiles — are Rube Goldberg machines. With a few exceptions like ambulances and fire trucks, using them to accomplish mundane trips around town is like using a chainsaw to slice and butter your morning toast. It is the ultimate capitalist boondoggle: Selling the schlemiels two (or more) tons of unnecessary shit instead of a bike or a tennis shoe or a subway ticket! What a great gig! Accumulate, accumulate — that is Moses and the Prophets!

And you also see here what a fucking joke things like “hybrid” engines are going to be in the hands of private industry. Slap that label on the thing, and the schlemiels stop asking questions! A great marketing tool!

What we need to do, of course, is to nationalize the automobile corporations, and use their assets to manufacture rail stock and other equipment needed for rebuilding our towns to favor walking, bicycling, and rail travel. As a stopgap, we should also manufacture and distribute very simple automobiles that get 40 MPG or better, and tax the hell out of both gasoline and gas-guzzlers.


* In case you’re interested in these kinds of things, Keynes used the term “surplus capital” in The Economic Consequences of the Peace.  Of course, “surplus capital” is also “surplus surplus,” since capital is society’s savings, its fund for repairing and transforming itself.