Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed the Electric Car? is a documentary film primarily focused on the short-lived success of the electric car in California and the multitude of forces that lead to its untimely demise. But even if you're not so into cars or California or the environment, the film provides an excellent illustration of how corporations control both consumers and government.

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini.

I'm not going to focus on the frustration of not being able to buy an electric car or a plug-in hybrid. I'm not going to focus on the bait-and-switch called the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. These are all important and aggravating concerns that the film covers sufficiently. The film's website provides an excellent list of resources on these topics.

The real revelation in the film comes from the evidence supporting the conspiracy among car manufacturers and gas companies to covertly kill a perfectly viable technology while purportedly supporting it. It's one thing for Wal-Mart to unabashedly exploit its suppliers, employees, and the environment in the name of low prices. It is entirely different when a corporation takes on a product line with all the appearances of enthusiasm while simultaneously trying to destroy that same product.

If corporations are rational, if soulless, actors, how does this sort of self-cannibalization take place? Following a rational actor model, car manufacturers alone would have nothing to lose by shifting to another fuel source for their vehicles. It is the gas companies who would lose. If your car is powered by electricity, you never have to buy gasoline or engine oil again. That sends chills up the spines of petroleum corporations, if they had spines. So the destruction of the electric car is evidence that the petroleum companies have HUGE influence over the automotive industry. And not just in the U.S. Honda and Toyota, purveyors of those popular hybrids, also cannibalized their electric car fleet.

The question then becomes how can you extract the petroleum companies from the decision making process. Can politicians and policymakers stand up to this lobby? The film implies that legislative and regulatory action requiring the automotive industry to reduce emissions to zero could work, as it did work to introduce the electric car to the California marketplace. But how do you convince an industry that got California to repeal those laws and regulations once that this time we're really not going to take it back. Why won't they just drag their feet, produce too few to meet demand, inflate the sales price, install less-than-state-of-the-art technology to lower performance and reputation, promote using the unattractive counter-message advertising, and donate to the campaigns of politicians willing to take it back? And unlike politicians or consumers, corporations never die. Corporations never leave to spend more time with their families. If politics is a waiting game, corporations will win.

Who Killed the Electric Car? illustrates that corporations control the government. The United States is a corporatocracy. The real question it poses is can the American people rest control of their country from the corporations and restore democracy.

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