What hap­pened was, I was hurtling around a mall park­ing lot in a beau­ti­ful British-designed hundred-thousand-dollar sports car, and I thought “Is this the good side of capitalism?”

I ♥ Cars · Dis­clo­sure: I like driv­ing suf­fi­cient­ly well to have writ­ten, ten years ago, an en­comi­um on the sub­ject that in­cludes a po­lice take­down and a po­em.

And there are lots of things to like about the busi­ness. It pro­duces prod­ucts across a huge ranges of prices that work pret­ty well  —  better ev­ery year, in fact  —  and last a long time, and about which peo­ple have strong aes­thet­ic feel­ings.

There’s no sug­ges­tion of monopoly; com­pe­ti­tion is fierce and it’s pos­si­ble for new com­pa­nies to grab a foothold. The in­dus­try tends to place val­ue on its work­er­s, pay­ing them and treat­ing them rea­son­ably well. They do not, at least most­ly, have bull­shit jobs.

Al­so, cars ad­dress humans’ nat­u­ral­ly no­madic na­ture; there is a spe­cial joy in get­ting on the road and head­ing out in any di­rec­tion you damn well please, as far as the road goes. Mak­ing that pos­si­ble re­al­ly just can’t be a bad thing.

But… · Au­to­mo­biles have had to be reg­u­lat­ed fierce­ly al­most from day one: Their speed­s, where they can drive and park, the safe­ty stan­dards on their tires and elec­tron­ics and brakes and crum­ple zones and seat­belts and child seat­ing, and of course emis­sion­s. The no­tion of a laissez-faire au­to in­dus­try is laugh­able.

And giv­en the slight­est chance, car com­pa­nies lie, cheat, and steal. For ex­am­ple, the re­cent “dieselgate” scan­dal played out against a back­drop of nudge-nudge wink-wink reg­u­la­to­ry cap­ture where ev­ery­one knew that any giv­en car emit­ted more and got worse mileage than it said on the la­bel. Some­times the cor­rup­tion was laugh­ably pub­lic, as with the US reg­u­la­tors clas­si­fy­ing shit­box­es like the PT Cruis­er as “trucks” so they could skate around emis­sion reg­u­la­tion­s.

Not to men­tion the re­sis­tance, in re­cent years, to look­ing se­ri­ous­ly at elec­tric cars. In the face of ter­ri­fy­ing climate-change pre­dic­tion­s, the in­dus­try did the ab­so­lute bare min­i­mum they were forced to. On­ly now, un­der com­bined pres­sure from glob­al reg­u­la­tors and Tes­la en­gi­neer­ing, are they show­ing signs of tak­ing it se­ri­ous­ly.

Your point is? · I’m a left-winger and some­how still like a lot of things about busi­ness: The drive to fig­ure out what peo­ple need and want and get that to them; the labyrinthine fas­ci­na­tions of mar­ket­ing and sales; dra­ma in try­ing some­thing out that might not work; sat­is­fac­tion of be­ing on a well-functioning team.

But yeah, the au­to in­dus­try is the nice end of the pri­vate sec­tor. So much of busi­ness is poverty-by-policy, bull­shit job­s, in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized mis­man­age­men­t, work-life bal­ance seen as a fail­ing, egre­gious sex­is­m, cor­rup­tion of the pub­lic sec­tor, and hy­per­en­ti­tled one-percenters who are so, so sure that they earned it all with their own hard work, de­serve ev­ery pen­ny, and the 99% are just losers who de­serve what they’re get­ting. [Me, I got lucky and know so many peo­ple who are smarter than me and work hard­er and are strug­gling to make ends meet. Why is that so hard to ad­mit?]

I’m an op­ti­mist. I think we can find a bet­ter and more bal­anced way to build an econ­o­my and, in the full­ness of time, will. And I hope we can still have cool cars.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Jarek (Nov 14 2018, at 05:47)

You could also mention the advertising/lobbying in favour of car-oriented single-vehicle-occupancy status-quo. Somehow all the car ads show the driver rolling through the pleasantly empty streets of a chic city, and never a traffic jam. The companies are also doing some pretty shady lobbying and shying from responsibility in Germany where the push has come to shove and there are increasing numbers of court orders to ban older (lying) diesels from city centres.


From: Rob (Nov 16 2018, at 20:18)

"The in­dus­try tends to place val­ue on its work­er­s, pay­ing them and treat­ing them rea­son­ably well. They do not, at least most­ly, have bull­shit jobs."

Like used car salesmen? Dealership Advertising Managers? Yeah, no bullshit in them there jobs.

Also see Dwayne Hoover from "Breakfast of Champions"

I am put in mind of this truly epic/hilarious series of posts "Tales from Dishonest Used Car Dealership"



From: Charlie (Nov 18 2018, at 10:02)

A minor technicallity that cuts the other way in dieselgate. The "cheating" vehicles are more powerful and burn less fuel than a "compliant" vehicle. To minimize certain types of pollutants considered more harmful than CO2, primarily NOx, fuel use (and therefore CO2) are higher than they otherwise would be in a compliant diesel vehicle.

Environmentalism as a political lobby is actually increasing CO2 emissions from diesel vehicles within the limits of current technology and the design tradeoffs that are required to meet emissions targets.


From: Paul Boddie (Dec 05 2018, at 14:23)

No mention of how there are just too many cars in and around our cities?

In my home country, the motorways are constantly jammed, rush hour is miserable, and yet there are plenty of cars with just one occupant. No-one lets their kids walk or bicycle to school any more, accompanied or otherwise: they all seem to want to fill the streets with their illegally-parked cars and then drive stupidly fast around residential neighbourhoods.

In my adopted country there are lots of electric cars (now probably outselling all other categories combined), but there are far too many cars of any kind cruising the urban streets, angling for parking spaces, backing everything up. Here, air quality suffers not just because of emissions but because of road surface dust. For some people, winter is especially miserable.

The car and its prevalence can be a pretty good barometer of the trends of selfishness in society. So there is such a thing as car capitalism after all.


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