Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Auto Factory Job, or Less Dependence on Foreign Oil?

Last night, as thrilled as I was to hear a commitment to social equality and an acknowledgement that climate change affects us all, I couldn't ignore a contradictory theme in President Obama's acceptance speech.

"We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

"You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift."

"And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil."

I feel frustrated that the auto industry remains such an important symbol of American manufacturing, even as it is incontrovertibly clear that our dependence on oil is a massive problem. I look forward to a day when there's a consensus that a large truck represents overconsumption that ultimately keeps working families underwater (maybe literally), rather than being a hearty symbol of American labor. Courtesy of Mr. Rogers, here are some videos that show other things American workers can make (or used to). The bottom line is that we need more quality manufacturing jobs in better industries. Or maybe Ford and GM can go full circle and start manufacturing bicycles. They're useful beyond nostalgia.

Penny Farthing as Nostalgic Spectacle at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI


  1. Well said. I was glad at least that climate change was mentioned in his acceptance speech. Everyone had been avoiding the issue during the campaign. I'd like to believe that was a strategic choice to win undecided voters whose only concern is their pocketbooks and not indicative of the amount of energy we'll see his administration put into changing policy.

  2. I visited the Henry Ford historic complex last year (my wife declined because of too much walking for her bad knees to tolerate). When I got back to the campground after one day at the inside museum and the next day in Greenfield Village, she commented on how excited I was after seeing all the exhibits, riding the train, etc. I reflected on the oft-quoted comment by Mr. Ford, "History is, more or less, bunk" and how this tied in with spending millions of dollars on historic preservation and re-creation. My conclusion was that he thought conventional history was too preoccupied with political, royal and military activities, and paid way too little attention to the people who really do the world's work and make our lives better. Connecting with the bicycle theme of the photo, one of the exhibits is the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, moved from Dayton OH and placed next door to the Wright family home, which was also in Dayton, but about a mile away from the shop. One of the indoor exhibits is the Montgomery AL bus that Rosa Parks was riding back when she declined to "move to the rear". Ironically, it's a General Motors bus, but it's a national treasure, and while I was inspecting the interior, a family was having a "teachable moment", with the children learning about why this common city bus was so significant.

    1. I found the whole complex fascinating! The museum has a large collection of bicycles, my photos of which are currently unavailable. This penny farthing picture is the best I could find to sum up what I found most odd about Greenfield Village, that it was a nostalgic vision of a past Ford had no trouble destroying. Not that he singlehandedly destroyed small town America, but his business practices have had huge ripple effects.

  3. From my background as a student of electric railways, I have often heard the accusations blaming National City Lines, and one of their major backers, General Motors, for destroying most of the trolley lines in the US. My answer to this point of view is, "Don't forget Henry Ford--his Model T made it possible for the 'Average Joe' to buy a car and avoid the often overcrowded streetcars." Many of the 'early adopters' of the T-Bone were rural folks, and as paved highways expanded, the interurban railways in the countryside suffered, long before GM got into the bus business. Then, as the other car builders came out with improvements, the more affluent people traded in their "flivvers", making them available at ever-decreasing prices providing auto-mobility for the less fortunate. GM helped the process by establishing GMAC financing around 1920, so drivers could pay as they drove, rather than come up with a big chunk of change all at once. Whether this was all an evil conspiracy or just good business practice, we leave to the reader to decide.