Monday, October 22, 2007


The OPEC wake up call of the 70s caused the United States to look at the fuel economy of its vehicles, and Congress told Detroit to get its act together. Detroit responded, and the miles per gallon performance of our vehicles spiraled from a pathetic 13 mpg in 1975 to 22 mpg in 1987. In 1988, we elected an oil man into the White House. Clinton inherited a four trillion dollar debt and got to work on leaving the country a surplus. He did other things as well, but fuel economy was not his mission. In 1997, instead of further improvements, we actually dropped to 20 mpg. Another oil man entered the White House in 2000, and now, 2007, we remain at 20 mpg.

In other words, 20 years ago our vehicles in aggregate operated at 22 mpg. Today, 20 mpg. For the depth and detail, the EPA Report.

In the words of our maggot-in-chief, "We need an energy policy that encourages consumption."


I'm not a car fanatic, but I can't help paying a little attention. Instead of the fuel economy race, Detroit (and unfortunately, Japan and Europe, too) are in a horsepower race. Why? Correctly or not, they believe horsepower, not fuel economy, sells. I fear they are correct, which reinforces my argument that the free market left to its own devices, unlike the libertarians and many conservatives believe, does NOT produce optimal outcomes.

GM is introducing a new Corvette featuring 600+ hp, 14 mpg, and a six figure sticker price. It can reach 100 mph in a few seconds. Wow, we sure need a bunch of these on the road. Nissan considers it necessary to raise the horsepower of its Z from 285 to 330. Why?

Your humble blogger mounts a coffee powered bicycle to slog his over-sized arse across town every morning and afternoon. The car is a Mazda 3 with a 2.0 L that gets 30+ mpg. I'm not requesting approval or kudos but only saying that such decisions occur as common sense.

Our cars, like our clothes, transcend functionality into symbolism. They become statements intended to communicate. I appreciate a nice looking dress, but does a dress have to cost $2000? At least a dress doesn't hurt people. Sadly, vehicles do communicate. I am not the communist eager to homogenize everyone to the same Model T, but the arguments for an optimal, efficient, and standardized vehicle of maximal utility would generate savings amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The survival of this species is truly in question. Consider the specification of standards which must be met. Any entrepreneur or producer is free to meet such standards in any way they choose.

I'm not coming from Pluto. We've already done it, and big time, with information technology, or you couldn't read this blog. Want to see an entire universe of technology converge onto universal standards allowing countless devices to conform to guidelines allowing worldwide linkage? We're there.

Why can't we do this with vehicles? All oil filters fit this. All tires fit that. Everything adheres to universal standards that aid the common good.


An Orwellian nightmare? Sure? That's how we built the Internet. Is the Internet an Orwellian nightmare? Do you feel enslaved by adhering to the TCP/IP protocol?

Instead, we'll just trust the market, and a bunch of testosterone challenged overweight balding egos will buy stupid cars they don't need to pump crap in the air and think they look more attractive to the women who wince at the sight of them.

Of course, this phenomenon has no life elsewhere. House square footage has completely stabilized at reasonable numbers.


Blogger Sirocco said...

If that new Corvette _really_ makes 100 mpg in a few seconds, they will make millions, MILLIONS I tell you.

Sadly, I suspect you meant 100 mph.

Nice looking cars, but yeah, I can't see buying one either. Something much cheaper and more gas efficient still gets me from point A to point B.

10/23/2007 7:00 AM  
Blogger Dustin said...

I don't think it's so muchyuppies buying sports cars that's the problem, but SUVs. I think SUVs account for much of this problem. even with the post katrina fuel crunch, instead of pushing more efficient models, they just renamed SUVs crossovers, got an extra 3-4 mpg and called it good. I've been told that auto makers don't make money from econo boxes, they make it from big ass trucks and luxury cars.

As oil prices remain essentially the same, and the economy slides into recession, I think we'll see less of this kind of thing for a while (I hope).

I'm on the econo box team as well, the peace of mind that comes from not feeling raped at the pump is worth it, as well as a little extra scratch for other things.

10/23/2007 7:40 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Thanks for the correction, and yes, Dustin, SUV's are a major part of the issue. Note the first photo is a Hummer. I hope the astute readers get that the vehicles are just one example. The same wasteful excess occur with the homes being built, and for a real nightmare, read "Fast Food Nation" regarding how this country relates to food.

10/23/2007 8:50 AM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

The automobile is obviously a metaphor for a deeper psychosis that could literally spell the end of humanity, and I am not exaggerating.

I cannot understand how the leaders of the world do not recognize that the market does not work in the face of economic externalities and conditions such as those in medicine, where the patient faces a weaker position, or education, where the student faces a weaker position, or the environment, where the payoff/cost decision matrix at the micro-level provides no incentive to conserve, be clean, or efficient. Chasing short term profit, we are boiling our frog.

I have reached the conclusion that we've blown it. I am old enough that I will likely be spared the Armageddon, but I believe an Armageddon is indeed coming, not a nuclear holocaust, which I consider extremely unlikely, but an environmentally based catastrophe.

Of course there is the global meltdown, which I see as inevitable when the methanes and other gases are released from the melting ice, but my senses point instead to a biological holocaust.

As more and more humanity compresses itself tighter and tighter and transportation keeps the pots well stirred, I foresee a "Twelve Monkey" bug. It may happen naturally, but I think we will bring it on ourselves.

To save money, the cattle industry pumps its cattle full of anti-biotics while feeding the cows chicken shit and even their own flesh (brains, spinal cords, etc.) in what I believe is biological Russian roulette. The chicken and beef industries mix blood, feces, brains, feed, all together in percentages large and small. Several warning shots have been fired with massive recalls.

Mother Earth has a fever, and she is not going anywhere. If humanity does not figure out how to live with "sustainability," the first name of x4mr's blog, Mother Earth will reach a tipping point, and we are done, one way or another.

Long after we're gone, a bunch a new life will move about the surface and under the water, and they won't burn oil.

If our governments don't start reeling in this insanity, it's not a question of if, but when.

As x4mr says, "It's physics."

10/23/2007 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"House square footage has completely stabilized at reasonable numbers."
What do you mean?

10/23/2007 1:59 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

you are preaching to the converted nav. It's going to get ugly. Take a look at peak oil some time.

Market solutions are good for many things, but markets are blind, and reactive.

something came up recently in my life guys, and while relatively minor, it has inspired some questions that I simply don't have the knowledge to answer. I went to the emergency room about six months ago ( at the wife's insistance), for a condition I could not identify, and had been living with for a couple of weeks or so (it turned out to be a pretty bad case of acid reflux,). I know that's a silly reason to go, but as I've never had it, I didn't know that's what it was, I thought I had something worse, like stones of some sort.

The point is, I incurred about 700 bucks in charges, divided up into seperate bills ( I don't feel that the services rendered were worth the amount charged OVERALL). I only got one of those bills, from what I now understand to be the physician, and paid it (about 250 bucks). The remainder was charged by the facility, unbeknownst to me, and sent immediately to collections. My question is, why is this on two seperate bills, and why isn't this reflected on insurance benefits? this is all the more bitter because my insurance didn't kick in till the following week. I feel like if I had been told what all the charges would be, I would have told them to kiss my ass and went back home dying or no. Is health care really THAT expensive? to be charged 700 bucks for what amounted to a doctor visit?

what are the differences in these universal health plans being talked about, because the health system we have now feels like theft. With hospitals raping the uninsured, and insurance companies making money by not covering people, how the hell is anyone supposed to get well? and who is going to pay those bills?

I'm not upset (well, I was at first when I got surprised by an additional bill to pay) but it got me thinking about these things. what happens to people who have major problems, and their debt is insurmountable. that money does not get paid, then what?

market solutions for health care are foolish. nobody chooses to have health problems, and would it even matter if they had all the facts? endless debt, or death, what a poor set of choices.

10/23/2007 2:06 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

The house size remark was meant to be sarcastic, but apparently (just in the last few months) it actually is subsiding. Prior to just a few months ago, housing sizes were ballooning as the average number of occupants fell. Surf around and you can find stories of couples (two people) spending more than they and afford for 10,000+ sq ft. monstrosities they do not need.

Navigator, great post and I agree. I've given considerable thought to the super bug idea. In my early 30s, I produced a film about an epidemic that wiped out millions. They showed it on the access TV channel.

You are right about the medical system. Those who don't have insurance are utterly screwed. There is a sticker price (say $5000) for a procedure. The uninsured must pay this. Insurance companies negotiate an outrageous discount, sometimes over 70%, so the charge is dropped to $1500. Then the insurance company covers say 80% of this, leaving the lucky insured with a $300 copay.

Insured: Bill is $300.
Uninsured: Bill is $5000.

It's obscene. Sparing you details, while at SAIAT I had to see a doctor a few times. The sticker price, $120 per visit. Blue Cross cut the fee to $54 and paid $33 of it. I had to cough up $21.

The United States is crucifying its lower middle class. The GOP is dead meat on this issue. The Democrats should pound this message backed by the cost of the war in a one two punch.

I missed it, but last night five university professors, experts in their fields, discussed the Iraq war. The sheer incompetence is beyond staggering, and news about it will continue to come out.

Hillary can't (yet and probably never) rock an audience like her husband, but she knows how to run a smart campaign. I smell 1992.

The S-Chip veto just fans the flames against a party rapidly losing the American people.

10/23/2007 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dustin, did you get the lab bill yet? Rx? there are more to come.

10/23/2007 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way we live - house size and the food we eat- have an impact on everything: oil consumption, polution, crime rate, alienation, depresion, etc.
What can we do about it?

10/23/2007 8:01 PM  
Blogger John Rose said...

The CAFE standards are just an idiotic way to increase the average fuel efficiency of our vehicles. What this country needs is a significantly-increased price of gasoline. Call it a "carbon tax", "cap and trade", or whatever you like, but the result needs to hit the SUV drivers in their pockets.

10/24/2007 2:11 PM  

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