Thursday, August 30, 2012
In a new entry at his blog, gregor.us, Gregor MacDonald dares to bring up an unmentioned reality in his post entitled, "The Demise of the Car".
As hordes of cyclists take over San Francisco and other city's streets, entire economies collapse, the earth's atmosphere undergoes radical change, millions of people get slaughtered, and billions in property damage, eco-system destruction, neighborhood deterioration and demise spreads to country after country, the single most relevant cause of all this chaos, the automobile, is blithely ignored.
Instead a pervasive silence is maintained as all criticism of this monstrosity is muted and any suggestion that maybe the car isn't the solution, but is instead, in a $95/bbl world, the problem, is repressed. Not a word is uttered as the US presidential election cycle enters its last lap, as the social and political implications for the new reality that huge swaths of the population will be left stranded in suburbs with no mean of conveyance gets absolutely no attention: zilch, da nada.
But the truth is, no matter how you feel about global warming, whether it's anthropogenic, simply not occurring, tomorrow's problem, it is not the reason for the fact that The USA can't continue this way. It is instead, economic. The economics of the US, as it's been altered to serve as little more than a conduit of cash into the surfeit of savings called the fortunes of the rich and infamous, can no longer follow the paradigm of the past.
Simply taking the cost of healthcare insurance, at $12,000 a year per person, highlights the problem of a continued automoted existence. As a larger and larger portion of pre-taxed earnings goes, not to 401's or mortgage payments, but to insurance that in more and more cases, pays nothing until after the payers have ponied up $5,000, and offers no choice, no matter how much the Republicans foam at the mouth about "freedom" (remember this has nothing to do with the ACA or President Obama: it's a dynamic that's been in place long before his presidency), the percentage of people's incomes left for discretionary purchases shrinks more and more each year.
Wages are not stagnant, they are decreasing in all the OECD countries, even as fuel prices escalate, food prices rise inexorably, and transportation costs, infrastructure maintenance, to get the fuel and the deluge of imported autos onto our shores in the first place, in order to sell them, make the Car once again the province of the rich.
This changes the role of the auto from an economic boon to a parasitic leech on economic growth. Far from helping the economy grow, dependence on it becomes like health insurance: counted in GDP figures as reflective of growth in the economy, when in fact it is subtractive from it. Having the entire population reduced to slaves of their machines, somehow surprisingly, doesn't increase their wealth, any more than having a chronic infection increases their health; it decrease it: it is a cost of living that drains the vitality out of every other aspect of the economy the way disease drains health from a human being.
But this will not be talked about, although it is THE most important fact we need to realize if we want to even begin to solve our many intractable problems. Although it is only a machine, its hold on the public's mind is so great, its attractiveness so bewitching, that no amount of suffering, environmental degradation, hunger, poverty, or broken bodies will change their attitude.
So while I hail Mr. Macdonald for saying the unspeakable, he is quite wrong. We will watch everything else be destroyed right in front of our eyes, but will never, ever, even conceive of the possibility that the Car can have anything but positive effect on human happiness and prosperity. Like hapless parents the world over, we will spend our entire lives devoted to the care of what is (supposedly) most precious, only to blithely throw them the keys and watch the fruit of all our labor drive away to join in the carnage.
Posted by Robert Lowrey at 12:27 PM