Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Inflection

Thomas Friedman has a New York Times piece The Inflection is Near? suggesting that perhaps 2008 will go down in history as the year in which the United States, and by virtue of global dominoes, the rest of the world fully awoke to the unsustainable freefall of humanity so greedily devoured by the wealthiest gluttons enjoying domination of the planet for their own self-interests. Sustainability is the first word in the title of this blog by design. The astute have known for some time that sustainability is a word that will grow in significance in the political and economic discourse. It hasn’t even really begun to begin.

I speculate that’s about to change. The word "footprint" is about to take the stage with a vengeance. For good reason.

We’ve had a system that subsidizes gluttony and greed, allowing the disgusting to gorge themselves at a fraction of the true cost of their hyper-consumption of oversized meals in oversized houses with oversized garages containing oversized gas guzzling behemoths. It boggles the mind to fully appreciate how we have obesified what takes us from point A to point B. For what usually moves us a nominal distance in a nominal time, we need a vehicle with 2400 horsepower so it can feature a DVD, HD TV, wet bar, 200 pound leather sofa seats with 20 pound positioning motors, Jacuzzi, card table, gymnasium, golf course, auditorium, football stadium, zoo, circus, and museum. Think I exaggerate? Look at the vehicles produced in Detroit and the advertising designed to sell them. They’re STILL chasing horsepower. Think about that.

I want the tiny wheeled thing that brilliantly maintains safety standards and gets 125 mpg. I’ll do the DVD at home and exercise at a gym. I don’t need to go bowling and watch trapeze artists while I drive to work.

The auto industry should scrap everything it thinks it knows and start engineering from the 25cc mini-scooter. Every tiny ounce and cc added to the design needs to fully justify itself under the most brutal scrutiny in terms of function and economy. We need to retire the paradigm that insists we haul theme parks back and forth every day to do our jobs.

This is about more than cars.


Blogger The Navigator said...


in flec tion – noun

1. modulation of the voice; change in pitch or tone of voice.

2. a. the process or device of adding affixes to or changing the shape of a base to give it a different syntactic function without changing its form class.
b. the paradigm of a word.
c. a single pattern of formation of a paradigm: noun inflection; verb inflection.
d. the change in the shape of a word, generally by affixation, by means of which a change of meaning or relationship to some other word or group of words is indicated.
e. the affix added to produce this change, as the -s in dogs or the -ed in played
f. the systematic description of such processes in a given language, as in serves from serve, sings from sing, and harder from hard (contrasted with derivation).

3. a bend or angle

4. Mathematics. A change of curvature from convex to concave or vice versa.

3/08/2009 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Robish said...

Perhaps we are at an inflection point in Tucson as well. Everything seems to be collapsing at once, and just like the national and global problems, our local problems were quite foreseeable.

The question is, if the wheels of our body politic completely fall off, do we just install new wheels similar to the old wheels, or do we re-engineer our civic technology?

Our models of government are not sustainable, so perhaps we as citizens need to come up with new ways of accomplishing civic goals and producing and distributing public goods. To do this, we will need an efficient form of local government more than ever, and will need some forward-looking, practical, and wise elected and appointed officials to facilitate the paradigm shift.

3/08/2009 10:56 PM  
Blogger TexPatriate said...

Quite honestly, your idea here is PRECISELY on point and should be used in a LOT more industries.

McDonalds and Burger King are now on board with "mini meals" and "burger shots". McMansions are finally seen as the tacky buildings made out of multi-ply cardboard that they are. Most overweight people are seen as an "epidemic" and the health care system is now working on how to get them off their behinds and get some exercise. Education is (thank GOD) being returned to reading, writing, and arithmetic instead of self-esteem, character, and whatever foo-foo class has been thought up for the "Johnny can't read" crowd.

I'm thrilled to see people CLUEING in that the economy is BAD and that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches really aren't. (Okay, maybe the peanut butter has some problems, but the basic concept is sound.)

It's OKAY not to have $200 jeans and the latest season's shoes, purse, sunglasses, or electronics.

Go, go "less" !

3/08/2009 11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A truly magnificent post, x4mr. The automobile is the perfect metaphor for the US economy and its pathology.

Perfect, just perfect. The language about "hauling theme parks" to go to work just nails it.

What a mess.

3/08/2009 11:27 PM  
Blogger Art Jacobson said...

As an old Marxist my almost limitless capacity for schadenfreude is full to overflowing. Capitalism, unregulated and global, seems to be crumbling from its own internal contradictions.

Will there be Socialism? The fable ownership of the means of production? Workers' collectives?

Probably not. A radical restructuring of economic and civil society and how we conceptualize them? Certainly. But that is not an "historical inevitability"
it is a job to be done.

The Roman Empire had 'fallen' long before the citizens of Rome realized it; it will take some time for the collapse of Capitalism to become evident to
all of us.

(The last to realize it will be obstructionist Republican conservatives)

3/09/2009 8:40 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

The story of the US automotive industry is indeed an excellent metaphor for the current meltdown as "anon" stated above.

Many decades ago, we fully understood the consequences of using a finite resource to fuel our transportation. Yet, did the following:
1. Mosty ignored the need for fuel efficient automobiles.
2. Mostly ignored the need for alternative sources of energy for transportation.
3. Mostly ignored the need for mass transit and continued to build sprawling suburbs dependent on cars.
4. Totally ignored the fact that our manufacturing sector would suffer a precipitous decline if we were overtaken by Japan (or any other country) in the manufacture of 21st century automobiles.
5. Totally ignored the possibility that Iraq would fight against a US occupation that intended to control the production and distribution of their oil.

I'd say we've let ourselves have it straight up the tail pipe (without vaseline.)

But who suffers?

3/09/2009 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

New here and wow, this is a really intelligent blog (including the comments).

X4mr's exaggeration (football stadium, golf course) about a vehicle really distills the insanity underneath the current implosion. When viewed from a fresh perspective (after rebooting) our vehicles are grotesquely over built for the simple task of transportation. The same can be said for the entire economy.

I think x4mr's metaphor says it better than Krugman, Friedman, or any of the experts. The party's over and the hangover is going to be one MF'ing SOB.

3/09/2009 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good entry. I like what Art said about the fall of Rome and would add that the power of denial is extraordinary. Republicans are completely blind to the collapse of everything they believe. All they can do is shout "NO!" or wail some nonsense about cutting taxes.

I don't think the real pain has started yet, but it will soon. The question is where the anger and hatred will be directed. Obama and Axelrod are very smart. If they succeed in looking like part of the solution while Republicans are part of the problem, the Republican party is toast.

If the morons keep sucking up to Rush Limbaugh, they're toast anyway. Limbaugh is your behemoth personified, an obese, arrogant, gluttony soaked egomaniac of no substance.

3/09/2009 1:44 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Been thinking about this post for a few days now ... wanted to throw a thought out there for consideration:

Is "overbuilding" of an item (cars, houses, computers, coats, whatever) an inevitable outcome within a capitalist economy?

3/10/2009 7:10 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

I've thought about it as well. The Rand libertarian would argue that the intelligent consumer would not be attracted to cost inefficient over built products.

Reality has amply refuted the intelligence of the consumer. Of course, one could argue the semantics of "over built."

Is a Ferrari or a Hummer over built? If the purpose of the vehicle includes ego, self-expression, etc., one could argue they are not.

I think we have come to a huge paradigm shift where we have to face the reality that individuals pursuing their own self-interests do NOT maximize the self-interests of all. The bankers got their bonuses. The rest of us are screwed.

The argument that regulation is unnecessary is DOA.

3/10/2009 12:11 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

"Overbuilding" is not inevitable with capitalism but capitalism certainly provides the best opportunity for it because capitalism is driven by profit, mostly short term profit.

US auto manufacturers had a relatively brief heyday when they realized they could sell gasoline powered $40,000+ SUVs to a middle class that was flush with liquidity.

So they did.

Gas prices would inevitably rise and the liquidity bubble would inevitably burst. They did it anyhow. They are completely devoid of social responsiblity, but that is the nature of capitalism.

Given that the supplier will produce whatever will make the most profit in the short term, the responsibility for not "overbuilding" is transferred to the demand side (in the absence of adequate government regulation.) This might work if the demand side took responsibility for long term considerations such as environmental impacts, the nation's financial stability, preservation of scarce resources, and so forth. But they don't, for the most part. In fact, they allow the suppliers to create demand through advertising. The consumers live in the short term too.

People wrongly believe that technology can turn on a dime if the need is great enough and they also wrongly believe that the "free market" brings about these sudden changes.

They are wrong. Capitalism is not going to save the US auto industry, nor much else.

Like X4mr says, "the argument that regulation is unnecessary is DOA."

3/10/2009 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Robish said...

"I think we have come to a huge paradigm shift where we have to face the reality that individuals pursuing their own self-interests do NOT maximize the self-interests of all."

This phenomenon has been dubbed "the Tragedy of the Commons" after the observation that people will routinely externalize the negative consequences of their actions when their own share of the negative externalities they've created are much smaller than their 100% share of the private benefits accruing from their actions. You can accumulate great wealth by defrauding the government, but when the economy tanks becuase of your actions and that of others, your share of the resultant loss of wealth in the economy is still much less than whatever you gained by committing your crimes.

3/10/2009 9:54 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

I think it was the 50s when Ford, being responsible, put a major effort into the collapsible steering column because of the safety issue. In collisions the column would thrust the wheel into the driver's chest often fatally.

GM gave the cars tail fins.

People dropped Ford for GM.

Sadly, in numbers we're a stupid lot. We get safety when we make it mandatory. To get real gas mileage, we have to mandate it.

The externalities Robish mentioned are taught in basic economics. It is amazing Republicans don't seem to know even the basics.

Greed, selfishness, and myopic disregard for the long term go a long way in explaining the mess.

There are plenty of people that will do ANYTHING for quick cash if they won't get caught.

3/11/2009 11:59 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

"Greed, selfishness, and myopic disregard for the long term go a long way in explaining the mess."

Very true.

Complacency is another huge issue. A willingness to live in my own little world with all of my little things that I purchased and my refusal to hear or see anything that would contradict my belief that I can do this forever.

Well, here we are. I read this morning that four states (Michigan, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and California) have double digit unemployment.

California is bad, bad news. That is a huge percentage of the US economy.

3/11/2009 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Industrial Society is destroying necessary things [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land] for making unnecessary things [consumer goods].

"Growth Rate" - "Economy Rate" - "GDP"

These are figures of "Ecocide".
These are figures of "crimes against Nature".
These are figures of "destruction of Ecosystems".
These are figures of "Insanity, Abnormality and Criminality".

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature [Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land].

Destroy the system that has killed all ecosystems.

Destroy the society that plunders, exploits and kills earth 365 days of the year and then celebrates Earth Day.

Chief Seattle of the Indian Tribe had warned the destroyers of ecosystems way back in 1854 :

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment

Delhi, India

5/03/2009 10:18 AM  

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