Highway to hell?

Over the past few weeks, I've seen a lot of people, particularly on television, freaking out because auto makers are losing money, and auto dealers can't sell SUVs. I thought the days were long past when anyone believed that what is good for General Motors was good for the country, but apparently not. People seem to connect the purchase of large, gas guzzling cars to prosperity in some deep reptilian part of their brain that will brook no argument.

First of all, not all automakers are doing badly. I am contemplating the purchase of a Mini for its excellent fuel economy and terrific easyness of parking in a crowded city. The problem is, you can barely get your hands on one, because everyone else in America just had the same thought. If anyone knows where I might acquire a 2008 model with a manual transmission and not so heavy on the options packages, preferably in a non-hideous color, you will be my new best friend.

But as I was saying. We are witnessing the market adjust to changing conditions. The fact that not so many people want SUVs is not some sort of national tragedy. The auto companies will retool and produce more small cars. We will buy them. Perhaps we will occasionally take the bus. This is not, itself, enough to produce a recession.

The delusion that SUVs languishing on the lot are the primary cause of America's economic malaise seems to come from the same kind of paltry economic logic that causes people to claim that America is doomed because it has stopped making stuff and now just produces services. A car is an ends, not a means. In the grand scheme of things, the transition from Hummers to Corollas is going to have less effect on American well being than the transition from tallow to vegetable oil in the McDonalds Fry-o-lators.

To be sure, oil prices and a hell of a financial hangover have made the economy look a little sickly of late. But we would still be having pretty much the same recession if we were all driving around in Jeep Grand Cherokees. We'd just have a slightly higher viewing angle.