“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Guess I'll Get Rid of the Maid

We have had decades in which to learn of the perils of planning. Everyone, from the radical Weberian to the repentant Marxist to the gleeful Milton Friedman-ite agrees that you can’t have central planning. And so we haven’t.

And now we need some. Badly.

The car company bailout is an excellent example of where we need, and are not going to get, central planning. Instead of seeing this in the real context of our transportation system – the massive government investment in roads, the petro-chemical system, and the manufacture of automobiles being all aspects of one system – we are discussing a massive bailout on the smallest scale. In essence, what is needed is to think in terms of steps towards a much better future with the automobile. LI is no fan of car culture – we’ve owned three cars in our entire life, and we don’t own one now. We bike or walk or bus. And nobody who bikes every day has any respect for cars – they are a constant danger. Ask the dik-dik about the lion.

But there is no way our transportation tastes are ever going to become a majority position in this Land of the Free Riders. At least not until the oil runs out.

A coordinated response to the car company crisis would see all the aspects of it. LI thinks that one of the principles that should be involved, here, is a step by step program to reduce oil use considerably. It would be nice to think that the electric engine is the deus ex machina for that. But the non-nice thought is that, at this time, that seems very unlikely. What does seem doable is reducing the amount of fuel used by switching, as they have in Europe, to diesel – using the refining technology that has made diesel basically odorless and lessened the emission problems associated with it. This is where coordination comes in – Detroit could not switch its lines to diesel if diesel is so expensive that consumers will baulk. The oil companies aren’t going to refine more if the cars aren’t going to use it. So it is up to the gov – to finance refining capacity. To coordinate between those industries. As it may be to coordinate the use of natural gas here. And as it may be to create the network that would allow recharging for an electric car battery. All of these measures would require a positive government response, going so far as to create government funded companies, in the absence of any private company to work with. This moment of economic collapse comes, actually, at a very fortunate time, since the collapse is in the exact center of the enormous political and environmental problems that the U.S. has put off thinking about. We can now actually do things about the insane CO2 menace, and the dysfunctions of America’s quasi imperialistic role in the Middle East.

If not now, when?

ps - Oh, and who can resist contrasting scenes from the Zona? First the workers of the Republic Windows and Doors factory:

“The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on this city’s North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation’s loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over.

Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.”

And then – a maid dodges a bullet! From the Vanity Fair article that will make your heart bleed.

The new thriftiness takes a bit of getting used to. “I was at the Food Emporium in Bedford [in Westchester County] yesterday, using my Food Emporium discount card,” recounts one Greenwich woman. “The well-dressed wife of a Wall Street guy was standing behind me. She asked me how to get one. Then she said, ‘Have you ever used coupons?’ I said, ‘Sure, maybe not lately, but sure.’ She said, ‘It’s all the rage now—where do you get them?’”

One former Lehman executive in her 40s stood in her vast clothes closet not long ago, talking to her personal stylist. On shelves around her were at least 10 designer handbags that had cost her anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to get rid of the maid.”
Why not sell a few of those bags?, the stylist thought, but didn’t say so.
“Well,” the executive said after a moment, “I guess I’ll cut her from five days a week to four.”

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