Bail, bail, bail! That’s not something you want to hear shouted from the highest commander in the admiralty, especially when all that bailing will only keep the heads of the crew just above water.
Two-thirds of our economic engine depends on consumers consuming. The more we consume, the better the picture. So as people tighten their life vests and consume less, the economy goes down even more.
Still, no one is calling for change of lifestyle. But guess what? Economic circumstances are changing lifestyles in a big way. And why shouldn’t they? We’ve all heard how America, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, produces nearly a quarter of the greenhouse-gas emissions and consumes nearly a third of the world’s electricity (mostly from coal), and 43 percent of the gas. Sounds like a shift in consumption habits might be in order.
They say that the rest of the world wants what we have (big cars, big houses, big TVs, hot tubs, etc.) We’ve all heard what an environmental and economic disaster it will be when India and China join the modern age with two cars in every garage. China is on track to sell more than 10 million cars this year, up 14 percent from 2008. Those cars run on gas, and the competition is going to get fierce to keep the pistons turning.
India’s car consumption is nearly 1 million per year. And this probably won’t surprise you, but our faltering American car companies are setting up shop in India.
According to Asia Times, 15 car companies, including GM and Ford, have set up out-sourcing offices in India with a combined budget of $1.5 billion. Why? Well it’s cheaper to design cars in India than it is here. Supposedly, the Indians can give the same quality design service for $60 per hour when that costs us fat cats more than $800 per hour to work in the U.S. It’s global economics.
But we have to ask why we did we bail, bail, bail? Saving pensions and getting the loan business back on track were two of the stated goals. Certainly we didn’t bail so we can keep on consuming, consuming, consuming as usual. Economic experts are basically saying that we need to keep buying all the junk that we usually do or the world will collapse.
When gas hit $4 a gallon Americans started driving less. What did the OPEC oil cartel do? They jacked up prices to go with less demand, making sure they were keeping the profits up.
I had the opportunity to interview energy expert Randy Udall. I asked him about energy independence and the Republican theme song, “Drill, baby, drill!” He countered that we are “drilling like crazy” already in the U.S. and we can’t really drill any faster than we are.
We live in a global economy and anyone who tries to sell us on energy independence is probably naïve or manipulative, or both. We are Americans. If oil is cheaper overseas, we’ll buy it there. If the Japanese car is better and cheaper, we’ll buy that.
To think that Uncle Sam is going to nationalize the gas industry by drilling everything in sight and then filling up our Suburbans on the cheap is hopelessly optimistic.
Here in the valley, from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, municipalities are wisely preparing for less sales tax revenue in the coffers than during the boom years.
Even here we are consuming a little less. Is it a good thing if there are fewer cars on the road and more people on transit? Is it a good thing that we as a world are going back to the drawing board with concepts like conservation and sustainability? Someone’s going to get hurt when the lights go on and it becomes clear that the party’s over. Instead of reaching for the bailing buckets, maybe we should start preparing for that now.
Steve Skinner is an American hypocrite looking forward to consuming less. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.