Monday, May 4, 2009

Numbers Racket

April car sales figures are in and are predictably dismal compared to '08 but there are some surprises.

Unsurprisingly the Big Three are down 30-40% but the shocker is Toyota down over 42%. Many small car makers are down more than this. Suzuki for instance is down a whopping 73.7% which is at the bottom and is a worse performance than even the reviled Hummer brand. Mitsubishi tanked at over 56% down but bottom-feeders Kia and Hyundai were in relative clover at only about 14% down. Mark ye well for further analysis--cheaper car brands in general lost less market share than more expensive ones. Not smaller just cheaper.

This absolutely and irrevocably proves the falsity of the proposition that Detroit is tanking because it does not make the small fuel efficient cars that "people want to buy". Utter rubbish. I actually yelled at the car radio the other day when an NPR reporter stated that Chrysler was in bankruptcy because they have had fewer small efficient cars for sale than many others. Tell that to Toyota and Suzuki. What the hell sort of self-inflicted blindness is it that makes journos so immune to the fact that a deep recession makes sales of big-ticket items like vehicles drop dramatically? This oft-repeated trope seems to be a version of what is called the Big Lie, that is something that upon even cursory examination can be shown to be entirely false but if it is repeated often enough most people will believe it.

It grows ever more tempting to succumb to the fevered allegations of a liberal media conspiracy but it is bloody hard to figure out what the devil this deliberately misleading reporting can possibly be expected to accomplish. If it isn't deliberate then it is merely complete stupidity but that's pretty hard to believe about NPR if not about mainstream media talking heads. NPR's credibility on this issue is now precisely zero and anything further they have to say on the subject will be automatically suspect.

Of course I have my suspicions about NPR motives but have had a difficult time believing they are that craven. Perhaps this is only because of 30 plus years of using them as an information touchstone and alternative to the NBC/CBS/ABC news hegemony of the 70s and 80s. Personalities such as Susan Stamberg would always give me the warm fuzzies even if I happened to personally know what they were saying was utter bilge and I was aware of little overt agenda advancement. Either I have become much more keenly aware of such tendencies or NPR/PBS have gotten far more unapologetically blatant than the were 20-30 years ago. Naturally I acknowledge the proposition, beloved by progressives who can't control it, that the internet can be a poison of the soul but the web is hardly the exclusive playground of conservatives-far from it. I don't credit talk radio because I listen to so little of it.

I am reluctantly forced to admit that the bulk of the broadcast evidence clearly demonstrates a progressive/liberal bias and NPR has now well and truly earned the snarky sobriquet of National Progressive Radio. Not so much because of what is said but because of what so often isn't which is any serious countervailing view. I am extremely nervous about stating such suspicions for fear of being lumped in with far more, er, lumpen conspiracists.

First of all the denizens of the publicly funded media are almost without exception reasonable sounding, sober, almost genteel folks who make a great show of bending over backwards to present more than one point of view. The nagging problem with this is that the opposing points of view usually range from very liberal to, at best, progressive-centrist. To wit: Every Friday E.J. Dionne and David Brooks are interviewed about events of the week. E.J of course is unapologetically progressive as befits an NYT true believer but the Grey Lady's tame house conservative Brooks is supposed to putatively represent his philosophical opposition.

They do in fact differ but this difference is equivalent to the gap between Nancy Pelosi and Joe Lieberman who are both Democrats, and generally progressively inclined, but one is rhetorically far to the left of the other. Only at NPR is David Brooks considered a serious conservative counter voice, a risible attitude in any remotely erudite conservative circles. Not that Brooks doesn't frequently have interesting things to say but it's just too bad, and emblematic of NPR, that this supposed diversity of opinion represents the distance from the middle of the sidewalk to the curb and falls far short of the rhetorical other side of the street. Considering the fact that NPR seems to swim gently in a warm comforting sea of Progressive pieties whilst incognizant of the world of contrarian air above perhaps we should be grateful for even this attempt at "diversity" of thought.

Getting back to my original subject the venality of the American auto industry seems without question to qualify as one of those given progressive tropes. This alleged venality has bloomed in the Progressive mind into a sordid combination of outright villainy and feckless incompetence because of Detroit's reluctance to fall on its sword to help advance the climate change agenda steamrollering through the progressive polity. Apparently the Big Three must be punished due to their roles as oppressors of the working man and heedless money-grubbing planetary assassins. They must meekly atone by designing the small fuel-efficient vehicles that "people want to buy" which is a course of action proven entirely without measurable result if the reported sales figures of all major automotive firms are to be believed.

In this case Bill Clinton's first campaign nailed it with the well remembered crack that "It's the economy stupid". A bad economy equals bad car sales--econ. 101. Unfortunately that course must not have been part of the core educational curriculum of journalism or political science majors. Or perhaps it was but is being ignored in a pursuit presumably more noble and holy than mere commercial trade, that of "saving" the planet. Rarely have such ambiguous ends justified such stupendously bone-headed and expensive means.

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