Friday, August 01, 2008

Outeat Them Back To the Stone Age

Rush Limbaugh got some attention this week for this:

People apparently, supposedly, according to Drive-By Media reports, for the last two months, three months, have been showing up at automobile dealerships and trying to trade in their SUVs and other automobiles that are, quote, unquote, gas hogs, 'cause they can't afford 'em anymore with the tipping point price of gasoline now reaching four bucks per gallon. So we here in America, the most prosperous, the most advanced, the freest, greatest potential, the most amazing collection of human beings in the history of collections of human beings, we are getting rid of our SUVs and pickup trucks, and we are in the process of downsizing to driving bubbles with wheels, lawn mowers with wheels, battery powered cars and so for forth, what are they doing in China?

What are the ChiComs doing -- while we move ourselves back to the Stone Age -- well, at least in that direction. China's most popular car is an SUV. SUV sales in China are exploding...How does it make you feel that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can't see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower.

Excess means progress. Anything else -- in this case the traditional and erstwhile American virtues of thrift, prudence, and temperance -- represents "the Stone Age." This almost demonic obsession with consumption has infected the highest levels of policymaking in recent years. In a speech in early 2001, Robert McTeer, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said, "If we all join hands and go buy a new SUV, everything will be all right." In 2005 his successor, Richard Fisher, said:

Where would the world be if Americans did not live out their proclivity to consume everything that looks good, feels good, sounds good, tastes good? We provide a service for the rest of the world. If we were running a current account surplus or trade surplus, what would happen to economic growth worldwide and what would be the economic consequences? So I think we are doing our duty there.

It's one thing for gluttony to be an individual right, cherished as much as freedom of speech. It's quite another for it to be a rite of patriotism. And it's still another for it to put us in direct conflict with other nations that profit from and/or reject the monetary policy that piggishness requires.

This is the latest tremor from an increasingly unstable fault line that runs beneath conservatism. It's not just about SUV's. It's about a way of life that encompasses things as basic as nutrition and eating habits (be sure to read this typically insightful Larison post). Is "green" a fad? Do organics and sustainability represent a secular trend, a return to a pre-bubble national mindset? By the time it waddles away from the all-you-can-eat buffet, conservatism -- at least part of the movement -- may be the last to find out.


Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

That quote from Richard Fisher is astounding! What a warped perspective one must have to think that by sucking up 25% of the world's resources we are doing everyone else a favor! What would the rest of the world do without us? They'd manage somehow I'm sure.

8/01/2008 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did gluttoney and excess become a virtue? I don't know, but apparently being fit is now considered a vice, or at least it is if you're running for president.

From the wall st jnl

8/01/2008 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Kilfarsnar said...

Oh, and lest I forget, Limbaugh proves once gain that he represents the height and depth of ignorance on the Right. The internal incoherence is impressive:

"SUV sales in China are exploding...How does it make you feel that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can't see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower."

Do you see anything wrong with this statement Rush? No? Well, in one sentence you manage to say that there are so many cars and big-engined SUV's on the road in this Chinese city that the drivers cannot see the car in front of them, but that we are the losers for driving smaller cars. Do you think that smog might be an indication that they need fewer, or less polluting cars, not more? I guess that realization might get in the way of your sense of exceptionalism and entitlement.

Upton Sinclair was right about what people won't understand and why.

8/01/2008 11:01 AM  
Anonymous e. nonee moose said...

Everybody hated Jimmy Carter's calls for conservation. Wonder where we'd be if he had listened to him 30 years ago?

8/01/2008 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an employee of BnL, I'm getting a real kick out of this post.


8/01/2008 12:08 PM  
Blogger Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

"It's one thing for gluttony to be an individual right, cherished as much as freedom of speech. It's quite another for it to be a rite of patriotism."

More than that: it's in our economic DNA. Macroeconomics tells us that consumption is a driver of economic growth: the marginal propensity to consume out of national income.

U.S. consumers eschewed savings yet found seemingly unlimited wealth in the rapidly appreciating asset value of their homes, which they then used as ATMs for Mortgage Equity Withdrawal. This behavior maintains a buoyant level of economic growth whether or not real productivity rises. Now we all see where that's gone.

I have a very strong feeling that the contraction of so many businesses, like Starbucks, correlates to the collapse housing prices and of the mortgage equity lending markets. The subsequent drop in the marginal propensity to consume out of national income follows, and without real investment and increase in real productivity we're going to be living in these doldrums for some time.

In this light, 'green' consumption is okay: good for the economy and the environment.

If you -do- buy lawnmower sized transportation, please make sure it's electric. Bicycle factories are booming with orders as are wind farm companies. Solar and wind are on the tipping point of going mainstream.

In my view, these forms of growth are highly preferable to the consumption of Hummers, cigars, Rush and oxycontin.

8/01/2008 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

A couple days ago I mentioned as part of another post, that today's Republicans are reactionaries, not conservatives. And that's exactly what the movement has devolved to. There is no thinking or logic involved anymore. If somebody to the Left of Joe Lieberman, or anybody under 30, likes an idea, then it's quite simple: the Republicans hate it and invent boatloads of bogus reasons against it. Like clockwork.

Doesn't even have to do with who is making money off of it anymore. Republicans basically have become the "you kids get off my lawn" party. Hence their current candidate. The only profit they gain from a lot of this stuff is that it riles up their voting base and thus gets the old, the bitter, the stupid and reactionary to get off their couches and go vote Republican.

It's nothing more than professional hate as a career. If, say, all Democrats and Leftists suddenly vanished from the Earth, the modern Republican party (rank-and-file as well as leadership) would just sit at home depressed like wind-up-toys who've run out of spring.

8/01/2008 4:24 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Conservatism? What Conservatism? I don't see any Conservatism here. I suppose the Ryns, Sobrans, Buchanans, etc. are just about off the stage though. What is going to be left? Now that is a scary thought.

Sound morality (as understood by Aristotle and the Christian tradition) begins with responsibilities to the most intimate association, the family, and then works outward to more distant relationships -- neighborhoods, larger communities, and then the country. To invert that order, or ignore one's primary responsibilities, is to reveal one's self to be "that `tribeless, lawless, hearthless man' denounced by Homer," Thomas Fleming

8/01/2008 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Rush, is he strung out on dope again. He certainly isn't living in reality. It isn't who can buy it, it is who can build it!

Besides the environmental issues, don't people have to have good paying jobs in order to buy this stuff? If we only CONSUME, like Rush wants us to, what do we DO? Who are we? We'll buy those SUV's and Hummer's but we'll have to send them back to China so they can fix them for us (Oh yeh, we already do that with computers). Sorry, only consumption doesn't make a country strong.

If I got a Hummer or SUV for free, I'd sell it immediately. It goes against everything I believe and want in life. Plus, our infrastructure is getting too old and weak, I'd be afraid to drive one over a US bridge ;-) If an American company can not build a car that is ecological, then we won't buy American cars. In order to buy American, we have to invest in educating our people so they have the knowledge to build and maintain those cars. The rest of the world isn't standing still anymore. The reason they can BUY is because they have JOBS, and their government is INVESTING big time in infrastructure and education.

Isn't it getting harder to call oneself a Conservative these days? Really, this is what it is all about. Aren't there any "good" Conservatives with conservative values? This is so sad.

Nightline had some good stories on this past week.

"Living Large: Overized Mansion Syndrome"
It's a myth Americans want McMansions. These folks want to downsize from their 26,000 sq feet home to maybe 3,500. Problem is, they can't sell the home, so they are going to try an auction it. The marketing firm they hired for $200k will also get a cut of the 6%. Couldn't they just have used ;-)

"Pharmaceutical Companies Must Take Responsibility"
A eyecatcher here was that 80%+ of the raw materials for drugs will come from China and India in the future. The small problem, no standards. Icks!

In the later story, the guest talked about how other countries are investing in their infrastructure and in their people. If Rush wants to "compete", why not on the percentage of our citizens that graduate from higher education with science, engineering, and math degrees? We are beginning to look like all talk, and no action. I think India and China will be laughing last, because they'll have the educated citizens and the infrastructure, and the standard of living that goes with it. I only hope, if those like Rush drag us into the toilet, that those that come next in other countries do it better than we did from an environmental and sustainability perspective.

8/01/2008 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10 things I'd rather have than an SUV

1. Clean air to breath, clean water to drink, safe quality natural food. These are fundamental. Without them, there is no quality of life.

2. A small (1200 sqft or less) ecofriendly home with good insulation, generates excess renewal clean energy, saves water, requires little maintenance, in a safe, unpolluted,

3. A strong national defense that doesn't do nation building. Public servants that are problem solvers, listeners, and uniter's, and that put the "P" back into Public.

4. A quality, affordable education for life, because skills required are constantly changing.

5. Quality, affordable, healthcare, which includes prevention, eyecare, and dental.

6. Renewable clean energy source for transportation, production, laptop computers, and mobile phones.

7. Mobile communications with national service that is better than Europes. Current technology, low cost all calls/no acceptions, no termination fees, no tiered plans, no nickel-n-diming with fees, and no roaming.

8. Mass public transportation that is safe, quick and easy and better than Europe's. A strong and renewed infrastructure.

9. One of those small cars they zoom around in Europe.

10. Some acreage (see #2) with oak trees, prairie grass, and spring feed ponds to fish bass, blue gill, and trout, hike, and be quiet. A canoe, mountain bike, and a yuppie wagon (lightweight, roto-molded polyethylene shell) that can be pulled by my ecofriendly small vehicle.

Come to think of it, an SUV doesn't even make my list anywhere. Are we sure the "SU" doesn't stand for "SUcker" ;-)

Alan Alda said it best in his book, "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself": "Keep score your way". I'd rather have money for things I need and and experiences I want, than something to boost my ego. Most people don't want SUV's. SUV's only work if the industry spends millions to push them on us through advertisement and deals. But when push comes to shove, people's natural healthy instinct is smaller and affordable.

Quite frankly, automobile dealerships as they stand today are a relic of the past. We don't need to blacktop acres of land to host hundreds of cars. We should be able to order a car on demand online, have it delivered by a driver or pick it up ourselves. The automobile dealerships will become simply maintenance shops. And we won't have to see miles of wasted land with idle cars on them.

8/01/2008 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My lord, what would Rush say about these folks that have turned to driving their golf carts:

"When Richard Fisher wants to meet friends for a cup of coffee, go to the grocery store or watch his grandkids play ball, he hops in his golf cart and zips off along the streets of Summitville, Ind.
dozens of communities, — including Danforth, Ill.; Pulaski, Va.; Conover, N.C.; Osseo, Minn.; and Loveland, Colo. — have passed or debated ordinances to allow golf carts on local streets.

8/01/2008 10:58 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Anonymous wrote: 3. A strong national defense that doesn't do nation building.

Does it also not do the Hegemon thing? If it was actually big enough to defend our country, as opposed to trying to be the Death Star, then it would cost a hell of a lot less. All that money could buy a lot of golf carts and granola.

8/03/2008 3:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh the Death Star! Uncanny that. Saw Star Wars again the other day. As a young kid in the 70's it was cool. Now, I'm a bit less stupid, or perhaps a bit more insane, I see strange parrallels to our world today. Have many Americans succumbed to some kind of 'dark side', with one symptom being the need for bigger SUV's and oil to feed?

8/03/2008 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

One of the smarter things I've done lately is join a car share program. I live in the city, I work in the city, even if I wanted to drive to work the first thing I'd have to do is put my name on a waiting list and wait for a space. So I don't own a car, but sometimes I need one. This way I have all the benefits of car ownership that I do need (which is using a car about every 6 weeks or so) and none of the drawbacks (car payments, city stickers, buying gas, parking it someplace...).

8/03/2008 2:33 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

I try to be an intellectual but I fall way...way...short. It is a sad day to see a magnificant intellectual pass. Not only did he understad the Soviet Union but he also wound up understanding our own culture. If there is anything I guarantee is that you won't find his thoughts about the US spoken in the main stream media the next few days.

A Decline In Courage

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

8/04/2008 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a picture of our Dream Home on the refrig. There's a whole movement for tiny homes, like the Small House Society. Suppose Rush would have something clever, NOT, to say about that too. It boggles the mind why Rush is still on the air. I don't believe he has any kids (with his 3 wives), so I suppose he doesn't care about anyone but himself and today.

I think the disease of consumerism is called Affluenza.

Couple bought so much stuff they had no place to live. 3000 sq-ft home: took 100 people 8 weeks to clean 75 tons of "stuff"! No SUV (garage was full of stuff too). It didn't do much for their family life though. No one could sit down, so they stopped coming.

One always has to wonder what the impact is on our Democracy with all this blind consumerism.

8/04/2008 2:26 AM  
Anonymous Mary said...

First: Being fit is a problem only if you're a Democrat. And it's not just the WSJ: The so-called liberal media will always find SOMETHING to pick at in a Dem, but IOKIYAR (case in point: George W. Bush, fitness fanatic).

Second: Again with the "this is not conservatism," now that the chickens have come home to roost. Well, I don't know what conservatism is in the platonic sense, but for all intents and purposes, THIS *IS* CONSERVATISM.

8/04/2008 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

To Mary (above): I can certainly see your point of view. TCR calling himself a "conservative" is really just sort-of an affectation at this point.

A letter to a magazine I once read pointed out that, because the meaning of words does indeed change over time, anyone who calls himself a "conservative" today has to accept all the baggage that people like Rush and Newt and so forth have layered onto it, in the same way that the meaning of "liberal" has morphed from one "who is interested in freedom", into "someone who likes to raise taxes and thinks the government should provide everything." Even though most liberals today believe no such thing, that's the way the word is used and so today's liberals distance themselves from it. Conservatives haven't accepted the idea yet that their name has been permanently tarnished (and not just by GWB, but others going back maybe before Reagan and Nixon).

After all, I could call myself a "Native American", since I was in fact born in this country. But that would be misleading to the point of being a lie, because the connotation of those words has changed.

8/04/2008 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does it make you feel that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can't see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower.

What is this, a game of keeping up with the Zhangses?

8/06/2008 4:19 PM  
Blogger Corbie said...

This is the latest tremor from an increasingly unstable fault line that runs beneath conservatism. It's not just about SUV's. It's about a way of life that encompasses things as basic as nutrition and eating habits (be sure to read this typically insightful Larison post). Is "green" a fad? Do organics and sustainability represent a secular trend, a return to a pre-bubble national mindset?

I certainly hope it's not a fad. The concern about organic food has a lot to do with the realization that our food supply is essentially so unregulated that we have to look out for our own safety.

I suppose my parents were/are the original Crunchy Cons. The Conservatism I was raised with believed in buying sensible, usually used, cars and keeping them for years through good maintenance; eating good food (made from scratch, not processed insta-meals), usually grown in our own garden; wearing classic clothes that weren't showy or faddish, and would therefore last for years; and doing family-oriented things rather than spending all our time watching TV.

Obviously, in retrospect, my parents are crypto-Hippies or something. Not exactly the prime movers and shakers driving the Corporatocracy, anyway, which makes them Unpatriotic (tm).

8/08/2008 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Todd said...

It should not be forgotten that in 2002, the Bush Administration introduced tax credits for small businesses to buy SUV's that weighed over 6,000 pounds. The greatest gas guzzling, monstrous pieces of crap that Rush Limbaugh LOVES got tax credits!!!

That encapsulates the idiotic mindset of the far right, and why we are in such deep shit because of their greedy, gluttonous, selfish ways. The other thing that comes close is when Dick Cheney said "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

8/10/2008 10:26 PM  
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