Follow up post to Ian’s questions can be found here.
Ian, after writing about the hit piece by Jacob Weisberg in Slate, came up with a few questions for Mr. Phillips, who graciously responded to The Agonist. Here are Ian’s questions:
Jacob Weisberg’s piece has only a few accusations which are actually grounded in your book. One is that you never actually make the case that the Iraq war was about oil. If you were to state your case briefly, what would it be?
Jacob’s piece is notable for its complete dismissiveness of you as a clueless geek, and of almost all your work. In fact, Weisberg states “His biennial books have become illogical, dizzying screeds. And his diagnoses, predictions, and advice to Democrats have been consistently, embarrassingly wrong.” Can you state one prediction you made in a prior book which has come true, and do you have any insight into why Weisberg seems so determined to dismiss the entire body of your work except “the Emerging Republican Majority”?
Think about those two questions, as I’ve got the answers and will post them late this evening or early tomorrow.
previous posting after the jump ~ Phillips’s site is here.
Post Dated: 2006-03-29 23:26:45
Tell me if this isn’t a spot-on summary of the last 30 years from Kevin Phillips’ book, American Theocracy:
When we look back on the three subsequent decades (70s, 80s, 90s), it is now possible to describe a much grander convergence of forces: (1) oil’s ever tightening grip on Washington politics and psychologies; (2) the cumulative destabilization of the Middle East; (3) the rise of varying degrees of radical Christianity, Judaism, and Islam around the world; (4) the biblical and geopolitical focus on Israel; and (5) the reemergence during the 1990s of [the Great Game].
That is our era in a nutshell. Sure, the Cold War was raging in the 1970s, but was it? Remember detente and those who sought to derail it? Lord knows I’ve poured over all the memoirs of the era, including Nixon’s, Ford’s, Johnson’s, and all three volumes of Kissinger (he’s a very verbose–but brilliant–man). Col. Bacevich was right in asserting that the real late 20th century geopolitical struggle was in the Persian Gulf, not the Fulda Gap, not Central Europe, not a march to the Atlantic. Better minds should have known better.
Nota bene: Jacob Weisberg betrays his utterly complete insider status with this review in Slate. The hostility really is bracing.
Again, on page 28 Phillips writes:
The irony is that during the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s the auto-making big three worked to push the U.S. transportation system into car dependence. Led by GM, the autmomakers acquired bus manufacturers and lines, then promoted diesel buses to displace both intercity rail transportation and electric transit systems. GM also acquired railroad-engine manufacturers, converting their production from electric trains (the norm in 1935) to trains that by 1970 were almost wholly diesel run.
Reminds me of another industry recent actions: the airlines lobbying against high-speed rail.
Finally, the last citation from chapter one:
The . . . ultimate measurement, the ‘carbon intensity’ of each automaker’s profits, found that “Ford and GM derive more than three quarters of their profits from high carbon emitting vehicles, because their profits are disproportionately attributable to light truck sales (read: SUV ~spk)
None of this should come as any surprise if you read Stirling on a regular basis.
But just to recap, that means that more than 3/4 of Ford’s and GM’s profits come from pollution. Free markets indeed.
Next up, chapter 2.
Post Dated: 2006-03-26 14:22
More from Phillips, this time about the auto industry, not just autos:
According to one study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, “the U.S. automobile industry shows the effects of pension costs on the bottom line. The results of a Prudential Financial study state that pension and retiree benefits represent $631 of the cost of every Chrysler vehicle, $734 of every Ford vehicle, and $1,360 of the cost of every GM car or truck. In contrast, an article in the Detroit Free Press reported that pension and retiree benefit costs per vehicle at the U.S. plants of Honda and Toyota are estimate to be $107 and $180, respectively (which is too low in my opinion ~spk). Longevity and diminished competitiveness went hand in hand. Predictions mounted that Toyota would soon replace GM as the world’s leading carmaker.
I scribbled two items in the margins of the book. First, when an auto worker complains about wage cuts and he owns an RV, boat, two cars (or trucks), and his own home labor’s gotten a tad fat. (And this is not a straw man, I met this guy in Belize.) Y’all know I am way, way pro-labor. But those stats are nuts.
Second, how did this happen? How did the crown jewel of American manufacturing become so uncompetitive? Sure, unions have their share of blame–but what about management’s lack of foresight, their lack daring and risk-taking? And their constant bleeding of profits via stock options?
Everyone thought they could love high off the SUV hog when the SUV was actually a golden reprieve for Detroit to change and invest. Instead the ruinously sucked all the profits out of Detroit. Some leadership, eh?
Post Dated: 2006-03-25 23:19
Phillips, on page 27 writes:
The aging of the US electricity supply and power grid, serious as it is, can be put to one side as we concentrate on the aging of the American oil culture; electricity is small stuff next to transportation. Cars and trucks burn an overwhelming two out of every three barrels of oil used in the United States. Airplanes use another 10 percent. Power plants, by contrast, are only minor oil burners, as of 1998 being 56 percent coal fired (that’s still problematic – eds), 21 percent nuclear driven, 10 percent gas driven, and 10 percent hydro-electric. The critical yardstick of an adequate U.S. oil supply–or any turn toward efficiency and conservation–must be automotive. (Emphasis added.)
Two things srping to mind from this passage. First, this gives the lie to the Bush notion that nuc-u-lar energy will solve our needs (although I am not opposed to it, if done properly).
Two, as I wrote in the margin of the book, “this is an absolutely astonishing statistic.” Our oil dependence springs from the fact that we are such a vain society which needs to a car to validate our status and such a classist society that we’re afraid to share a bus, subway or train with a complete stranger who might be a little different than us. At least that has always been my take on the resistance to mass transit in suburbia: class. And that, to a great degree is a function of religion, at least as I see it down here in Texas.
Post Dated: 2006-03-21 19:46
Ok, so I broke down after arguing with myself all day, went to the bookstore and bought it: American Theocracy. I’m not even on page one and I gotta blog about something.
In the preface (page ix to be exact) Phillips writes:
Oil, as everyone knows, became the all-important fuel of American global ascendancy in the twentieth century. But before that, nineteenth-century Britain was the coal hegemon and the seventeenth-century Dutch fortune harnessed the winds and waters. Neither nation could maintain its global economic leadership when the world moved toward a new energy regime.
I always thought the United States was about free markets and the marketplace of ideas. The understanding being that the best ideas, technologies and products would win out in the end.
Why then have we resisted making money from emerging environmentally-friendly technologies? Why have we not exploited new markets with all the great ideas emerging from the free market place of ideas that is our unregulated economy? I’m confused.
Reality is that the vested interests of the oil econonmy–from cars, to suburbia, to air conditioning units–are deep enough, the players powerful enough and the amount of money sloshing around great enough to stave off the change until it all falls apart.
There’s a phrase for that: willful ignorance.
Kevin Phillips is blogging at TPMCafe about his new book, American Theocracy. Check it out.
The New York Times Magazine has a review of Kevin Phillips’ new book, “American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century” that you simply must read. I have so many books to read and a few to review already, including Fukuyama’s new book, Barton Biggs’ book on Hedgefunds and Markos’ book, Crashing the Gate. At 480 pages I’d rather not review Phillips’ new tome; however, like a true sucker for a good book, I will be at the book store early Tuesday getting my copy.
I believe Ian will be reviewing this book as well, so maybe he and I will have a rolling conversation on this one.