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.