For all the back-and-forth about “culture wars” in the USA, have you ever noticed that the one thing that never gets included is the war elephant in the room — the huge, lavishly and minutely administered impact of corporate capitalism, market totalitarianism, and runaway commercialism?
I’ve been busy trying to finish my book about corporate capitalism’s addiction to perpetuating cars-first transportation in the United States, no matter the cost.
As part of this work, I just updated my estimate of the annual expenditures we Americans are compelled to make on this arrangement. The number is now at $1.5 trillion dollars a year.
Here are a few thoughts on that staggering figure:
Only 7 countries on Earth have a Gross Domestic Product (i.e., an entire national economy) that exceeds $1.5 trillion per year.
The gargantuan U.S. expenditure on autos-über-alles is actually substantially lower than it properly should be, if the maintainence and construction of automotive roads and bridges were keeping pace with the technical requirements for non-worsening operation. How extreme the shortfall in road-building might be is something to contemplate in your next traffic jam.
Note that the $1.5 billion figure excludes the indirect costs imposed by autos-über-alles: increased medical and legal expenses caused by car crashes, for example.
Overall, the vast economic wastefulness of the whole arrangement is matched by equally huge missed opportunities. As the great Jared Diamond says:
Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.
Or as I myself argue in my the forthcoming book:
As our schools crumble, our library close, and tens of millions of us go without health insurance, we Americans in 2008 spent 1.5 trillion dollars buying, equipping, fixing, fueling, parking, insuring, and road-building for our cars.i What kind of Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory transportation system would we now have, had we spent on railroads, bike paths, and pedestrians-first cities even half what we’ve spent on automobiles over the last century? How nice would our towns, schools, hospitals, and insurance programs be if we could stop squandering so many resources on automotive goods and services?
$1.5 trillion, by the way, is more than 60 times the annual expenditure of SNCF, the French national railroad system, which is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and luxurious in the world.
Remove any one of these six legs, and the money-changers’ table tips over.
The auto-industrial complex, however, is the one that is in big immediate trouble, due to the inherent pipe-dream of using two tons of materials to transport individuals to and fro every day of the year.
Finance will always renew itself, thanks to the basic structure of income distribution, and is also set up to expect some down times.
Medical ain’t going nowhere.
Military ain’t going nowhere.
Household (being food-clothing-shelter) certainly ain’t going nowhere, and is, size-wise, largely a shadow of the automotive complex. The car gives you the suburb, which sells everybody washers and dryers to replace the shared laundromat room, etc.
The car is the linchpin of the system, and, hence, it is non-negotiable, from the overclass (read: mainstream + confused/cowed/captive “alternative”) perspective.
Posted by Michael Dawson | August 6, 2008 1:44 PM
Posted on August 6, 2008 13:44 Michael Dawson:
P.S. re the numbers:
If you tote up vehicle purchases, repairs, fuel, insurance, parking, parts/tires, and road construction/maintenance, the yearly US expenditure on automobiles easily tops a trillion dollars. These days, it’s probably >1.5 trillion…
So, the Neo-Gipper is talking about pumping in something like one-third-of-one-percent of the overall endeavor.
Such is the fruit yielded by the tree of Klintonism and its imported “balanced budget” rootstock.
Where the fuck is all the new electricity for these supposedly workable electric vehicles going to come from? Wind and solar are break-even propositions, at best, in EROEI terms, and using nukes or coal to make the juice would last about a decade before it would hit the self-same supply limits now looming for petroleum.
I know it’s been said before, ala Chicken Little, but here we go again: Only a mass green-socialist-public enterprise uprising against the system will solve this coming crisis…
As I will explain in my forthcoming book, Automobiles Über Alles: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States, no topic is more forbidden to public utterance than corporate capitalists’ intractable collective addiction to selling cars. Despite the increasingly obvious suicidal insanity of permitting this addiction to continue, even its mere existence still cannot be mentioned in public.
If you doubt this, check out the latest dog-and-pony show conducted in the U.S. Congress: the June 23, 2008 House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing called “Energy Speculation: Is Greater Regulation Necessary to Stop Price Manipulation? – Part II.”
What did the two wings of the Business Party have to say in this bit of theater?
More interesting and, as always, much less honest is the D faction of the Business Party. What is its way of avoiding the Carmageddon issue on behalf of the choosing class?
Well, for starters, where would you guess, if the D Team really were an opposition party, the Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce might come from? California? Seattle? Portland or Eugene, Oregon? Madison, Wisconsin? Or some other hotbed of ecology, right?
But from whence does the actually existing Energy Chair arise? Why, Detroit, of course!
And what does the Honorable Motor City representative have to say about why “America is addicted to oil”? It’s not really a problem of demand, of course:
The environmental community says the answer is to conserve energy, to change the way we live, work, and play.
a valid point.
But it isn’t any part of the business of Congress, since the structure of demand is just one of many:
long-term solutions that will likely take at least 10 years; they will do little to solve the immediate problem we face.
In reality, the urgent business of Congress, this fine D-bot Chair says, is not to raise the issue of why we’re addicts. No, it is to start by observing:
The Saudis note that oil supply-and-demand seem to be in balance and that there is no substantive basis for current prices.
Got that? “There is no substantive basis for current prices” of petroleum! We have no underlying problem!
So what is the trouble we face?
Even the Department of Energy’s own Energy Information Administration says that “the flow of investment money” has contributed to the spike in oil prices. Yet the Secretary of Energy dismisses speculation as a cause of spiking oil prices and the Treasury Secretary agrees, shrugging it off as a “tough period.” In short, real solutions from this Administration are harder to find than a $3 gallon of gas.
See? See? It’s just the dealers, man! They’re gouging us, man — totally harshing our buzz, man! We just need to get some new dealers, see! Help us rough up our dealers, OK, man?