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 giveaway — this time, to the US-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

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 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.

Michael Dawson is author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (2004). He is the publisher of the blog The Consumer Trap, which aims to expose capitalism, marketing and market totalitarianism. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ron Horn said on November 19th, 2008 at 2:21pm #

    Another great article on this fabulous website!

    Yes, nationalize the auto industry and have them manufacture all sorts of public transportation systems. Why not nationalize everything and controlled by democratic institutions created by working people?

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 19th, 2008 at 3:05pm #

    That’s right Michael and Nationalize a few more corporations. Time is short the next year will tell the story of human civilization strange to write that but very easy to see with say a sixth grade education.

  3. Andy Best said on November 19th, 2008 at 4:00pm #

    I’m not sure how to take the first two comments here but it’ s important to heed the basic truths in this article. Take a look around – most people can’t get off cars and it would only take some minor shifts to do it.

    It would take only a fraction of military spending or ‘capital’ being thrown at the corporate minority to put in decent public transport in every city and make safe bike lanes too etc.

    Why doesn’t it happen? Because the majority of the ‘the people’ don’t take action.

  4. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 20th, 2008 at 8:01am #

    the statement that “majority of people don’t take action” needs elaboration and an elucidation.
    in other words, study all antecedents or causative factors for “inaction” of a majority of people.
    let’s enumerarte some of these factors?
    majority of people in US and perhaps all lands r a nongoverning class.
    ie, this class does not control to almost any degree, senate, congress, army, cia, fbi, city police, means of production, money/its use, politicians, education, etc.
    since education is controled by the governing class, what does an amer child learn in elementary schools? absolute obedience to the flag; ie, to the ruling class, methinks.
    in spite of slavery, lynching, segregation, two Abombs, eradication of the indigenes, ab 180 wars, a civil war, a child in US learns ab checks and balances, greatness of america, that god blesses (only) america, sacredness of the constitution, etc.
    this child grows to be an adult, more misled now than ever because now she can read also papers and listen to politico-media-sacerdotal class.
    some of them wld even kill/maim people to protect their vision of america.
    and thereby fight for own children secondary status. but such an indoctrination is effective to a high degree everywhere.
    it’s happened in germany ’33-45. it had happened to serbs just recently.
    it’s now happening to affghans, iraqis.
    and the main causes for these tragedies r miseducation and religious misteachings/intolerance.
    that’s why almost all gov’ts not only allow churches to dissiminate lies, hatred, intolerance, but actually encourge it.
    this ‘dogma’ is know as “divide et impera”.
    and US is no exception. thnx