Monday, November 1, 2010

"Great Recession Eats Pontiac"

If there ever was a symbol of the American Empire it was our seriously cool big cars. Pontiac was one of these, and a doorway symbol into the middle class.

Sort of like being first generation university student, first suburban house, all that. Well ya can kiss all that gleefull noise goodbye.

Pontiac from General Motors is toast. After 84 years of tempting Yank working stiffs onto the Interstates it's gone. Like the American Dream that it symbolized for generations Pontiac is History.

Ah!,...the wonderful giant gas guzzlers that could barely fit into your garage or any reasonable sized parking spots are vaporized. I remember riding around in my uncle's 1959 Pontiac.

It was like be driven about in an vast aircraft carrier with stereo radio, air conditioning, and automatic windshield washer. Course there were no safety features whatever.

That sort of thing was for the French, and librarians.

So if we were in even a 'minor' accident me, and uncle would fly through the windshield, getting shredded, beheaded, and set on fire all at the same time.

'But hey the Interstates ain't for sissies!

I loved it.

Yeah my extended family, my aunts, uncles, assorted cousins, my mom 'n dad were finally at the entry level of the Grand Post War American Middle Class.

This btw at the absolute peak of the American Empire! ( ya hearts out you selfish, uneducated millennials.) We owned the the damned planet, and they could kiss our nuclear powered butt if they didn't like it.

Oh we shall never see such days again.

Aw well,..time to learn Mandarin.

Oh, cute runabout,..I'll take two!


Zaek said...

Where's Lee Iacocca when we need him?

The lowdown as I've heard it is that GM is basically an undead corporation kept on its feet only by massive infusions of taxpayer lifeblood. If it sheds a limb such as Pontiac here or there while staggering down the causeway, that's just the zombie way, and to be expected.

I've also read this evening that the USA has decided to pay its debts by printing money to lend to itself, to the tune of 600 billion dollars over the next seven months, for starters. I gather that in no historical instance has such a policy when consistently applied ever failed to produce economic disaster. Folks, I fear we are in for a really bad time.

I never thought I'd want to join Edith and Archie Bunker in a chorus of "Those Were the Days" (and I certainly don't want Herbert Hoover back again), but from this end of the timeline the decades of yore are looking rosier all the time.

Sion said...

Yes, I suppose that’s about it: America is an industrial empire in decline. Like Britain post 1900.

But does it have to be a bad thing?

A curious effect of the recent economic collapse is that ‘class struggle’ has finally come to America. In America the faith in social mobility always precluded class struggle. Now, ordinary American people perceive that what works in America only works for the elite and that their future has been outsourced to India and China. It is an irony that Tea Party voters blame their woes on Obama’s ‘socialism’. It is an even greater irony that the governing elite encourages the poor and the stupid to oppose Obama’s ‘socialism’, as a gradual move towards a welfare state would be far more in the interests of political stability (ie preservation of the political status quo/preservation of the elite) than the creation of an increasingly impoverished and deracinated proletariat.

Like previous empires in decline America in recent decades has tried to cure its internal problems by chasing imagined enemies abroad. It has spent an increasing proportion of its GDP on its defence budget and has engaged in fruitless wars of adventure in places that most Americans had never heard of before their troops invaded them.

But there is always an intelligent alternative. I would argue that America would defend its interests better by abandoning its perceived role as ‘World Policeman’, by slashing its defence budget, bringing home the troops, shrinking the armed forces, and reducing military expenditure to small-scale local defence forces and Intelligence. Such a policy shift would also require re-defining its relationship to Israel and shedding foreign treaty allegiances (Nato). American foreign policy would no longer be dictated by the survival of Israel and the protection of Europe or Japan.

If America threw off its World Policeman complex and re-defined itself as one nation amongst many it would still emerge as the leader of the pack. It would still have the world's best research institutes and most innovative companies. And it would, I believe, recover its initiative and prosperity.

Bodmin said...

Thankfully, the elite who run America are too stupid and arrogant to consider any of those possibilities, so the rest of us will have the dubious pleasure of watching the US self-destruct.

Even if these things were done, America's economic and industrial base is too far gone; it may have "innovative" corporations that are good at having stuff produced elsewhere in the world, and good research institutes, but America can't produce anything for itself, let alone to export. None of the three centres in the world that still produce wealth through the production of goods by labour (as opposed to financial centres which, like the betting windows at a race track, simply redistribute it among the wealthy), are in North America any more.

The demise of Pontiac has more symbolic import than you think.

Sion said...

Sorry, but I am not yet ready to write off the USA as a lost cause. And I won't take any pleasure at all in its self-destruction if I am wrong. Though I don't deny that America (and the rest of the industrialised world) are in for some stormy times.

In recent years American economists and policy makers have tended to dismiss Europe and to brand it as hopelessly uncompetitive and bureaucracy-riddled. They were wrong. Today Germany is already out of the recession - German manufacturing is booming as never before and the German economy's main problem is a lack of skilled workers to meet the new demand.

'Long range' forecasts confidently predict that in twenty years the Chinese economy will be number one, India number two, and USA in third place. All I can say is that none of the 'experts' behind such a prediction can have visited India. The current highly restricted expansion of Indian manufacturing will soon be terminally throttled by the lack of skilled (or even literate) workers, a crumbling infrastructure, and endemic corruption. 'Superpower India' is and will remain a dream. China has problems of a different kind. It is naive to suppose that the tensions created within Chinese society by the 'liberalisation' of the economy will not sooner or later lead to a major confrontation with the ruling Party. And Chinese manufacturing is poisoning the domestic environment at a faster rate and on a larger scale than was seen even in the heyday of the Soviet Empire.

The future (if we have one) must lie in a radical reconceiving of the whole process of manufacturing. We need to build everything on a smaller scale and to pack ever more complex processes into smaller and less energy-consuming packages. No more gas-guzzlers, no more Pontiac. No more cars altogether, I suspect. We have to build everything as if it is designed to be packed into the International Space Station (which is what the Earth is slowly becoming). The USA is the place that has the skills and vision to bring this manufacturing revolution into being. It will require a radical change of mindset. But change is something that America is good at. That's why I won't dismiss America yet - even if Pontiac is gone.

Zaek said...

I partly agree Sion. The end of American empire won't be all bad for other countries, notably poor ones. You've probably heard the statistic that the USA consumes 25 or 30 percent of global resources while comprising only 5 percent of global population. That means that when our ability to import goods from abroad declines, raw materials will remain in the (mostly poor) countries where they originate, leaving 20 percent of the world's wealth with the people who actually own it. So they'll benefit, at least potentially.

Unfortunately for the USA, this particular instance of decline isn't just a matter of imperial overreach. It's also about resource depletion, particularly energy resources. The world is running out of the raw juice needed to power our infrastructure; therefore we won't be able to run that infrastructure for much longer. So this won't be merely a slow imperial detumescence for economic reasons like that of Great Britain or Spain. It will turn out to be a true civilizational collapse, such as the Mayans experienced, or the very late Roman empire.

All your proposals strike me as good, particularly those relating to America's self-appointed role as global policeman. We're stupid to think we can keep that up. The automobile is indeed doomed as a primary form of transportation. And I like your idea of revamping manufacturing. Only I tend to think that rather than more advancement and miniaturization, we would do better to step back our technology a generation or two, to a level of greater simplicity and durability (no more of that bloody planned obsolescence - we can't afford it). For further technical complexification depends heavily on the energy sources which I've mentioned are beginning to come into short supply. Instead, rebuilding our train system would probably be a very good idea.

Yep, I'm pretty sure India will not become a superpower. Even China won't retain that position for long, though I do expect them to get there for a while. Once the oil and coal and gas run below a certain level, all such projections of grandiosity will likely come a cropper.