Can I begin with a headline? I really want the Slog's editor, Chase Burns, who loves chaotically long headlines, to see how far a headline can be pushed.
This one is from a UK rag called the Daily Mail, and it concerns the recent unveiling in Las Vegas of Elon Musk's future of transportation. The headline, Burns: "What a bore! Elon Musk's 'futuristic' $55M Las Vegas public transit Loop is panned as a 'crappy Disney ride' and 'just humans driving through a tunnel at 35mph' as it's finally unveiled - and there's NO sign of the 155mph driverless Teslas." There you go.
Now, the video of the Loop looked as plausible as a Hype Williams music video from the 1990s. It was car after car moving through a tunnel with lots of flashy lights. But, as the Daily Mail pointed out, there was nothing in the Loop (lights, tunnel, single car) that seemed genuinely "futuristic." If the car is driverless and moving at almost the speed of a race car, then, the thinking goes, we got something that's better than the car on the road today. But the Loop used an ordinary Tesla and moved at a speed that can be obtained and sustained with some good lungs and a bicycle. But this was not even the real failure of the Loop.
Now, let's imagine a world where this headline appeared last week: "Just Wow! Elon Musk's futuristic $55M Las Vegas public transit Loop is celebrated around the world as truly revolutionary, with humans traveling through tunnels in 155mph driverless Teslas." Even if this were the story, we would still have a piece of transportation technology and infrastructure that did not rival the efficiency and general usefulness of a subway train.
This fact is so obvious that one has to ask this dumb question: Why is Musk even trying to sell us a future that is plainly much worse than what we already have in the past? The subway is a 19th century technology. But it still is one of the best solutions around for urban mobility.
The points made by Brent Toderian do not need any kind of genius to make. The logic of the Loop can be cut down with a tongue that's not even that sharp. So, what is all of this noise about?
Simply put: The car is not just a car; it is the very key that opened the mature period of American capitalism. The car formed a way of life and a kind of consumption that unified large but otherwise independent departments of the society. Cars are expensive, which ties up the consumer. They demand expensive infrastructure, which ties up government revenue. They also require resources from often hostile parts of the world, which justifies a large military and standing army.
We have never really known an American capitalism that thrived without the car at its core. Even after the housing market crashed in 2008, it was car loans that kept much of the debt at the subprime level. A turned-on TV at almost any time of the day is wall-to-wall ads for cars with zero financing for the first three months. (This fact spurs a brief digression on another underappreciated aspect of car capitalism: The problem in our society is not a lack of capital—there is way too much of it—but a lack of places to sink it. This is why Paul Sweezy and Paul A. Baran in Monopoly Capital located advertising as a massive capital sink, and this sinking is needed if, as the Sweezy/Baran hypothesis goes, stagnation is to be avoided.)
What these points nix is any surprise at the Washington Department of Transportation's solution for de-clogging Seattle's famously bad downtown traffic: widen 1-5.
Everyone knows it will not work, in the same way everyone knows that the Loop will never come close to making anything like an improvement on the subway. But is the American way life (i.e., capitalism) possible under the domination of public transportation? What happens to the military under this condition? What happens to government budgets? What happens to the life of the individual when it is made cheaper?
incredible! footage of elon musk's The Boring Company's amazing new hyperloop prototype in action. this will revolutionize transportation as we know it pic.twitter.com/5r56TaxWnn
— matt (@Lubchansky) April 9, 2021