Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Not-So-Nostalgic Farewell To The Days Of Happy Motoring

Showing it's age... 1960's Esso sign, behind a former Esso station in Victoria Rd, Thornbury. (A suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Au.)

James H. Kunstler:

"Americans will never again buy as many new cars as they were able to do before 2008 on the terms that were normal until then: installment loans. Our credit system is completely broken. It choked to death on securitized debt engineered by computer magic and business school hubris. That complex of frauds and swindles coincided with the background force of peak oil, which meant, among other things, that economic growth based on ever-increasing energy resources was over, and along with it ever-increasing credit. What it boils down to now is that we can't service our debt at any level, personal, corporate, or government - and that translates into comprehensive societal bankruptcy.

The efforts of our federal government to work around this now, to cover up the "non-performing" debt and to generate the new lending necessary to keep the old system going, is a tragic exercise in futility.

I'm not saying this to be a "pessimistic" grandstanding doomer pain-in-the-ass, but because I would like to see my country make more intelligent choices that would permit us to continue being civilized, to move into the next phase of our history without a horrible self-destructive convulsion.

Another consequence of the debt problem is that we won't be able to maintain the network of gold-plated highways and lesser roads that was as necessary as the cars themselves to make the motoring system work.

The trouble is you have to keep gold-plating it, year after year. Traffic engineers refer to this as "level-of-service". They've learned that if the level-of-service is less than immaculate, the highways quickly enter a spiral of disintegration. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers reported several years ago that the condition of many highway bridges and tunnels was at the "D-minus" level, so we had already fallen far behind on a highway system that had simply grown too large to fix even when we thought we were wealthy enough to keep up. Right now, we're pretending that the "stimulus" program will carry us over long enough to resume the old method of state-and-federal spending based largely on bonding (that is, debt).

The political dimension of the collapse of motoring is the least discussed part of problem: as fewer and fewer citizens find themselves able to buy and run cars, they will feel increasingly aggrieved at the system set up to make motoring virtually mandatory for all the chores of everyday life, and their resentments will rise against the elite that can still manage to enjoy it.
Welcoming Committee
Because our car-dependency is so extreme, the reaction of the dis-entitled classes is liable to be extreme and probably delusional to an extreme, too."

In Full, Lagging Recognition, James Howard Kunstler, Clusterfuck Nation
, (June 08 2009)
Comment on current events by the author of The Long Emergency (2005)

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