The Increasing Cost of Car Ownership is Capitalism in Action
The last two years have seen a flurry of posts about why ‘Gen Y’ is not that interested in cars. In a previous post, I had summarized my views on that topic as-
The lack of interest in cars (and automobiles in general) by Gen-Yers is the rational result of a combination of long-term trends and the profit hungry short-sighted mindset which characterizes the later stages of capitalism.
While that post listed and briefly explained the main long-term trends that make autos less desirable, it did not really go into the other part of the problem (short-sighted capitalism) in any worthwhile detail. So let us fix that..
Evangelists of capitalism and its numerous minor flavors such as free-market capitalism, libertarianism, fascism, corporatism etc keep on telling us that capitalism is self-correcting. But what does such “self-correction” lead to? Do social or economic systems really have a stable equilibrium? While we can certainly engage in sophistic arguments about what capitalism is or isn’t; such talk is no different from trying to say that soviet- and mao-style communism wasn’t “real” communism.
I am going to use the response of contemporary society and its institutions to the “new car owner crisis” to demonstrate that capitalism-based systems are not self-correcting. Indeed, they have a very strong tendency to destroy themselves and damage the underlying social fabric.
The responses of car companies to this emerging crisis comes in two forms-
a1. Trying to find new car owners in emerging markets such as China, Brazil, Russia and India. They hope that they can get enough new customers to make up for the stagnation and decline in western countries. While the idea is not without merit, it assumes that whatever is causing the crisis in developed countries won’t occur in these emerging markets. While that assumption might have had some merit a few decades ago, that is no longer the case and trends from female fertility, rates of marital discord and other socio-economic trends spread much faster today than they used to. But let us ignore that for a moment and move on to the next response.
a2. They are hiring “trend consultants” and “designers” to create “hip” and “quirky” cars that will hopefully appeal to ‘Gen Y’. While doing so will make a few consultants wealthy, it does not address why things have gone downhill. Designing “hip” cars is about giving the appearance of action. It is similar to putting a colorful band-aid on a cut artery or giving aspirin to a person suffering from a serious infection. In both cases, it allows people to shield themselves from accusations of inaction.
The auto-makers response seems to be a combination of abandoning ship and casting spells to entice new car buyers. What about the government? Are they any better?
Now you might think that people in the government would be interested in keeping the status quo, if only to ensure the continuity of their scams. While they are aware of the potentially disastrous effects of declining rates of car ownership and use on their bottom line, it is apparent that they cannot get their shit together and act rationally. But why not?
b1. A government is a ever-morphing collection of scamsters and vested interests- just like any corporation. While the older version of this institution (from 1935 to say 1985) had some interest in ensuring their future through keeping the underlying society healthy, the newer version is full of rent-seekers. The governments of developed countries are now largely made up of factions and groups that have absolutely no interest in solving problems or building a better future. Indeed, they try hard to create more problems and opportunities to use legal coercion to collect rent. Consequently they spend most of their time trying to collect more and ever larger traffic tickets, build toll roads in preference to public access roads, and write rules and regulations to makes car ownership more expensive and onerous.
b2. Another factor that affects the government’s ability to respond meaningfully is that they employ an ever-increasing number of people to regulate and micromanage rather than do something useful. While this trend was a response to decreasing opportunities for employment in the private sector due to capitalism, it has created lobbies and cliques that want to justify their jobs, expand their domains and abuse others. While doing that is equivalent to killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, most people are too short-sighted to think (let alone act) otherwise.
OK, so the government is solidly into rent-seeking and kicking the can down the road. But what about society in general? How are people trying to address the problem?
c1. The first and most predictable response is denial as most humans believe that reality requires their explicit consent to manifest itself. The strategies to deny this particular problem range from seeing it as good for the environment, a sign of the end of suburbia to seeing it as a reversion to the mean of ‘impoverished’ existence. While I have hate suburbs, I can see that they were about reestablishing racial and economic segregation. Cars just made the process a whole lot easier. The aggregate sum of the pollution caused by cars pales in comparison to that put out by coal powered electric generation in China. Furthermore, comparing our age with any previous one in human history is as meaningless as comparing a fish to a rat.
c2. Then there are those who hope and pray for a second coming of job based prosperity. But is that possible in a world where automation and machines increasingly do most important jobs? Face it, most jobs today are about scamming, bullshitting, zero-sum competition to do tasks that have a net negative utility to society. We can pretend that jobs in education, law, medicine, management, human resources, sales and other sectors are about creating a better world. But is it true? It is also important to understand that automation, technology and machines are increasingly replacing human labor in even these areas.
c3. We cannot also forget the CONservative, and often older, subhumans who try to convince everyone that they are lucky to alive as slaves. These are often the same asswipes who never try of telling others how they bought and worked on their first beater in the 1960s and 70s. They conveniently miss out the part about relatively stable jobs, low (or no) student debt and living under a less predatory version of capitalism. Some of you see such behavior and beliefs as an example of a simple misunderstanding, but I do not. Many of the morons who exposure such beliefs are just greedy cynics who believe that they are ageless and immortal.
Did you notice something common to every major point in this article? Institutions and people are letting boundless greed, delusional beliefs and absolute self-interest rule their very existence. Some many say that doing so is human nature, but is it just human nature? Isn’t that how capitalism really works?
What do you think? Comments?