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Thread: Does America Really Care?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Does America Really Care?

    As I blazed through some anti-Wal Mart literature, as well as some APA residential architecture books over the log weekend, I realized something:
    We (A lot of folks here, but a small -percentage of Americans) feel that there may be substantial problems with the way things are designed, developed, utilized, and the overall meanings/impacts of modern-day life here in the Good Ole USA. But does the rest of the country care about these things, or are they concerned with others thing.

    "These Things"
    -People know about the pricing, labor and business practices that large-scale retail discounters (Wal-Mart in particular) utilize in order to ensure their botton lines. We have also had many protest the construction of new Wal-Marts and express great interest in have them locate elsewhere.
    But why, when the construction of a new Wal-Mart is protested by the citizens and ultimately put to a vote (as it did in the town I went to college in) do people flock to these places when they get approved? I mean do people ONLY look at their pocketbooks, or do they really know the true story of the Walton lagacy?
    I remember in college discussing this with a guy I lived with. Even after explaining some of the bad things about Wal-Mart, I still heard "Well, the new (insert pop culture ribbish) DVD is so cheap there, as well as their groceries. It may only be a couple cents cheaper than the supermarket, but you can get so much at Wal Mart"
    Seems to me, that America may be too distracted, too willing to follow a corporate front, or just willing to look the other way to save 4 cents on a can of tuna.

    -What about architecture and sprawl? Always a hot topic on the Throbbing Brain, it seems that we, as planners, are always fighting for things like: A non-garage dominated street scape, New Urbanist Development, higher density housing, and pedesrian scale circulation within shopping centers, etc.
    In my small experience as a planner, I have seen this situation: When the public is presented with something new regarding development, they seem to be leary at first and ultimately the plan gets changed (i.e. I had a housing development with alley loaded detached single family. This was immediatly rejected at neighborhood meetings, as well as public hearings. The result: the same single family street-load housing that we see all over the region). But if something new is built without public involvement, it tends to be accepted more and sometimes folks get excited about it.
    Also, seems that the overall feel of a "snout" home dominated street scape is negative to most people. I have heard people say that these neighborhoods "have no character" or "something is out of place here" or "there is nothing neighborly about this street". YET, many people buying new housing choose to have the snout garage. I have had homebuilders say that those models are preferred by their customers and I am hurting their bottom line by requiring something else.

    I guess I ahve ranted long enough, but what are your thoughts? Does anyone agree or disagree? Does anyone have any other examples that we could add to the "These Things" category above?

    The views and opinions expressed by this authoritarian jerk are his own and do not reflect opinons of Cyburbia, its administrators, moderators, members, shareholders, or subsidiaries
    Last edited by zman; 28 Nov 2005 at 4:00 PM.
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  2. #2

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    Nobody cares. Cheaper prices, bigger houses, more gas guzzling cars (like my Subaru ).

    Doesn't matter, anyway.

    Look at a table of the Current Accounts Deficits in the world's major trading blocks. We are going down for the count-the rest of the world is basically loaning us money right now.

    It is unsustainable, even if the doomsaying about cheap oil isn't true. We are an increasingly poor, proudly ignorant and uneducated coutnry that thinks it is rich. Nobody wants to buy anything we produce except maybe garbage culture. And, even there, there are new producers (Korea, Bollywood, etc) that are winning market share at the expense of Hollywood.

    The Neocons Dream's of Empire are based on American economic prowes during the 1950s and 1960s. That is gone. Who here (absent a few Michiganers) has bought an American car? An American-made electronics product?

  3. #3
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    There is a large segment of our population that need to save money. This segment grows larger each year, and thus saving at Walmart is important to them. These are not the kind of people who go to council meetings and support the building of stores or anything else for that matter. They go about their lives working and supporting their families. They really could care less what the store looks like.

    The more well to do folks, who have time to think about and complain have a louder voice. Like I've said all along, we planners have to speak for the poorer folks who love and need Walmart as well. Yes, we need to work on better design, but it's not our place to even care about Walmart's employee policy.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  4. #4
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Nobody cares. Cheaper prices, bigger houses, more gas guzzling cars (like my Subaru ).

    Doesn't matter, anyway.

    Look at a table of the Current Accounts Deficits in the world's major trading blocks. We are going down for the count-the rest of the world is basically loaning us money right now.

    It is unsustainable, even if the doomsaying about cheap oil isn't true. We are an increasingly poor, proudly ignorant and uneducated coutnry that thinks it is rich. Nobody wants to buy anything we produce except maybe garbage culture. And, even there, there are new producers (Korea, Bollywood, etc) that are winning market share at the expense of Hollywood.

    The Neocons Dream's of Empire are based on American economic prowes during the 1950s and 1960s. That is gone. Who here (absent a few Michiganers) has bought an American car? An American-made electronics product?
    That is kind of what I was thinking while compiling my thoughts the past couple days. What can be done for the future? Is this going to all collapse and blow up in America's face in the coming years/decades before people realize what they are doing?

    I was kind of curious to see what more folks had to say about this, but it looks like they don't care either.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Not only do they not care, they don't know any better. Try to explain what you wrote here to Joe Blow at the bowling alley. The worse thing is Joe Blow just got elected Commissioner and thinks bringing that big box in is great becuase it brings 200 jobs with it. The rest of the town thinks its great because we now have a Home Depot just like the got in big city

    Buy American? Do you think most people even look at where things are made? They look at one thing, the price!!

    Architecture? Phhht!! who cares? New buildings are better then old. Right? Tear down those old buildings in case someone wants to build something new.

    Sprawl? Most people I talk to have never heard of it. Living out by the golf course means you've made it out of the middle class.

    The same people complain about rising crime, dead downtown, traffic, and no 'good' jobs. But they fail to realize its all connected. After all, this is why they moved out by the golf course.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    I think people do not care. The prevailing thought is that more is better, and life is about how economically successful you are. Price is the determining factor in most decisions, whether it is a major purchase (house) or a can of tuna. I find it interesting that most people in my neighborhood (small homes, narrow streets, alley accessed garages, mixed housing stock, small neighborhood commercial element) are happy with where they are and have no intention of moving to a bigger houseor so they can havea 3 car garage. My in laws (suburban dwellers) would not even consider buying in my neighborhood because they can't find a house with room for a music studio (what for? the one in their current house had never been used) but are willing to spend at least an hour and a half commuting to work every day.

    I don't think it comes down to "giving the customer what they want". I don't know anybody who wouldn't want a side loaded or alley loaded garage, as long as their car could be secured and they wouldn't have to go through inclement weather to get to it. Home builders do it because it is cheaper.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    What savemattoon said.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    My non-planning friends bought their homes based on getting the biggest house they could for their $$$. They might not be really content there, but they don't know why.

    As for Wal-Mart, I shop there. Only for a few specific items. I don't like their grocery section except for a few low-priced items; same with pet food, toiletries, etc. But I work with people who have to save those bucks every week. For a family of four, with mom a secretary and dad unemployed, saving $80 a month on groceries is important.

  9. #9
         
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    Is hop at Wal-Mart out of convenience and price. Quite honestly there aren;t that many mom and pop stores around here and on my salary Wal-Mart is the cheapest (and the one spot I can get eveything I need without running the boys all over town). I do not grocery shop at Wal-Mart I go to Shop 'n Save and often stop at the local produce market for produce (locally grown veggies and fruits)...pet food - Petco...
    Its not that I don't care, I do but at this particular time I also have to do what is convenient for me and what takes the least amount of time so that I can be home with the boys rather than running from one store to another with them in the car for extra hours at a time.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Not only do they not care, they don't know any better. Try to explain what you wrote here to Joe Blow at the bowling alley. The worse thing is Joe Blow just got elected Commissioner and thinks bringing that big box in is great becuase it brings 200 jobs with it. The rest of the town thinks its great because we now have a Home Depot just like the got in big city

    Buy American? Do you think most people even look at where things are made? They look at one thing, the price!!

    Architecture? Phhht!! who cares? New buildings are better then old. Right? Tear down those old buildings in case someone wants to build something new.

    Sprawl? Most people I talk to have never heard of it. Living out by the golf course means you've made it out of the middle class.

    The same people complain about rising crime, dead downtown, traffic, and no 'good' jobs. But they fail to realize its all connected. After all, this is why they moved out by the golf course.

    Bingo, savemattoon. Spot on. You have encapsulated our nation's attitude, and our eventual undoing.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    The Neocons Dream's of Empire are based on American economic prowes during the 1950s and 1960s. That is gone. Who here (absent a few Michiganers) has bought an American car? An American-made electronics product?
    I drive a Ford but who knows how much of it came from the USA. As far as electronics goes... is there anything made here anymore? Well, my Kitchenaid appliances are made in the US but I'd be hard pressed to find anything else in the house that is.

    It does amaze me how much I hear people justify spending money on junk they don't need by saying that it's good for the economy. It's the consumer version of paying someone to rake leaves to one end of the yard and then paying them to rake them to the other side (over and over again).
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  12. #12
    Regular people are overworked and overstressed and they certainly don't have time to worry about Walmart's impact on local business. They do worry if they're going to make their credit card payment this month.

    You have to study this stuff a lot to make all the connections between cars, sprawl, regulation, business and homebuilding. That's why town planning is a skilled profession. You have to offer your expert advice, and if they tell you to shove it, there's nothing more you can do.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I just want to note that the usual suspects planners name as "unsustainable" and contributing to the decline of the American economy are based upon macro-economic/trade policies, particularly globalization/free trade, that have played out for a number of years. Only recently has the US realized how this has affected our economy. Remember it was Clinton that extolled the virtues of a "new economy". We now know that this was really an empty promise; that many people mistook the short term fortunes for a long-term model of economic success. The realities of this "new economy" are what we are dealing with every day as the US loses its competitiveness within it. I guess my point is that Wal-Mart, sprawl, and the withering of traditional models of local economic development and land use planning are all symptoms of this greater trend in American politics and this is often forgotten in the discussion.

  14. #14
    For myself, I refuse to shop at WalMart because at least in this part of the world they are skanky and dirty and I feel unsafe in them. The employees are more apt to make use of the five-finger discount that anyone else. I do shop at Target because it is clean and well-lit and the aisles are wide.

    However, here's the other part of the equation: growing up here in New England there was a class issue built into where/how you shopped. Kmart and Woolworth's was bad - they didn't carry anything that was name brand (this is late 70s-early 80s)and the quality was second or third rate. Caldor, Zayres and Ames were OK for things like summer clothes and shoes and paperback books and stuff for your dorm room. Sears was better and so was JC Penneys. You wouldn't tend to cringe and run away if a friend saw you coming out of there. I tended to follow that rule even when I moved to Boston - Bradlees yuck; Lechmere/Filene's Basement ok. (the real one).

    But, as my folks still live in northern Vermont, they are clamoring for a WalMart or better yet, Target. They have NOTHING! The Kmarts and the Ames and Bradlees have all gone under. In a rural area it means having to schlepp an hour or more to a large enough area, Burlington, Rutland, etc. where there is more selection. That gets tiresome when all you need is a package of underwear and maybe a flannel shirt. Shopping online is not an answer as they only have dialup. DSL and Broadband is unable to service rural customers. So that leaves catalog shopping.

    They are not happy about the idea of a place like this coming in and bringing with it the inherent problems/issues, but they are really desperate. At least in this situation, WalMart has been in talks to actually take over an old storefront that is empty - it was an Ames - and then just add on where needed to get up to the size they need. The infrastructure is there already. Vermont is already so anti-WalMart it isn't funny. And even in a state that small, class is still a big part of it.

  15. #15
    BeansandCod: the situation you describe your folks in No. VT being in should be a textbook example for someone local to make a go of retailing the basic neccesities -- it sounds like a built-in market chock full of opportunity. Isn't anyone doing that up there?

    I have family in west-central NH and I know they travel to Manchester/Boston to shop from time to time. Part of Yankee living, no?

    And I agree with you about stigmas associated with certain stores -- a place where I grew up was off-limits if you wanted to be seen as having any self-respect whatsoever.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    BeansandCod: the situation you describe your folks in No. VT being in should be a textbook example for someone local to make a go of retailing the basic neccesities -- it sounds like a built-in market chock full of opportunity. Isn't anyone doing that up there?

    I have family in west-central NH and I know they travel to Manchester/Boston to shop from time to time. Part of Yankee living, no?

    And I agree with you about stigmas associated with certain stores -- a place where I grew up was off-limits if you wanted to be seen as having any self-respect whatsoever.
    It's possible, I guess, but could the prices be anything close to WalMart's? I honestly don't think so. I know folks there are really basing this whole issue on choice and selection rather than price so that might not be an issue. It does sound like a built-in market. I wonder how much of this issue is part of the VT state gov'ts rather intrusive rules...

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    I'm not so sure if it's a problem with people not caring... I think people in the United States, and increasingly so in other countries, are more distracted than ever.

    We have more things in society today that keep us "happy". Television, cell phones, internet, video games, movies, etc. They keep us happy, occupied, and they do it cheaply. Even those of the lowest economic strata can "afford" these distractions, via credit.

    As a result, few people (even those who stand to benefit the most) have the time or desire to get away from those distractions long enough to care about vital issues. It's an issue that will increasingly become a more and more significant challenge.

    With that being said, it's not all bad. These distractions have played a significant role in making society safer, as even the most base are subject to the same diversions. And of course those who truly do care about issues enough to vote or voice concerns are becoming more prominent.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
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  18. #18
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Nobody cares. Cheaper prices, bigger houses, more gas guzzling cars (like my Subaru ).
    Doesn't matter, anyway....
    This is exactly the problem!! We have become this commercialized, materialistic bunch of folks who accumulate tons of CRAP for the sake of accumulating tons of CRAP!! Do we need most of what we have? No! But if we can save 6 cents on it at the Big Box, then we should get 2, shouldn't we?? It really is starting to piss me off to see how ridiculous it has become.

    And I'll tell you, we complain about it, but do we stop shopping at these places? Most often, I'm afraid not. We could change the world if we only gave a damn!! [Incidentally, I am proud to NOT shop at Wally World. I seriously haven't been there in over 2 years - and I don't miss it. I am also proud that there is nothing I have purchased in the last year that was made in China. It actually makes my shopping a lot easier. Buying American made is a challenge I am working on. It's hard. But it's where I want my money to go, so I think it's worth the effort.]
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally posted by RandomPlanner...
    This is exactly the problem!! We have become this commercialized, materialistic bunch of folks who accumulate tons of CRAP for the sake of accumulating tons of CRAP!! Do we need most of what we have? No! But if we can save 6 cents on it at the Big Box, then we should get 2, shouldn't we?? It really is starting to piss me off to see how ridiculous it has become.

    And I'll tell you, we complain about it, but do we stop shopping at these places? Most often, I'm afraid not. We could change the world if we only gave a damn!! [Incidentally, I am proud to NOT shop at Wally World. I seriously haven't been there in over 2 years - and I don't miss it. I am also proud that there is nothing I have purchased in the last year that was made in China. It actually makes my shopping a lot easier. Buying American made is a challenge I am working on. It's hard. But it's where I want my money to go, so I think it's worth the effort.]
    Emotionally, I agree with you. And, logically, we cannot continue to import everything. Still...some would argue that not "buying anything from China" means condemning the Chinese population to a life of rural village squalor?

    Plus, I do enjoy certain imported things (Subarus!!!. Sorry. There is not ONE GM car I would consider, Chrysler is owned by the Germans, and the Fords are either rather dull or-Mustangs are cool, but impractical. I would hate to give up French Cheese for autarchic ideal.

    Just another perspective-I am certainly not saying the Turbocapitalism and Globalism are unalloyed good things. Or, that we should celebrate the decimation of our economy.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RandomPlanner...
    And I'll tell you, we complain about it, but do we stop shopping at these places? Most often, I'm afraid not. We could change the world if we only gave a damn!! [Incidentally, I am proud to NOT shop at Wally World. I seriously haven't been there in over 2 years - and I don't miss it. I am also proud that there is nothing I have purchased in the last year that was made in China. It actually makes my shopping a lot easier. Buying American made is a challenge I am working on. It's hard. But it's where I want my money to go, so I think it's worth the effort.]
    Unfortunately, vowing not to buy products from China is not sustainable either. The poorer China is, the cheaper it is to produce products there, and the more attractive it becomes as a labor source for manufacturers. Ultimately, there is a huge gap in the economics of the world, and until some kind of equilibrium is established, cheap labor will be available in poorer countries.

    And of course, alot of "made in USA" products are simply assembled in the USA after being produced in foreign countries.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

  21. #21
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Breed
    Unfortunately, vowing not to buy products from China is not sustainable either. The poorer China is, the cheaper it is to produce products there, and the more attractive it becomes as a labor source for manufacturers. Ultimately, there is a huge gap in the economics of the world, and until some kind of equilibrium is established, cheap labor will be available in poorer countries...
    I see your point to some degree. But realistically, if EVERYONE in the US decided not to buy products made in certain countries (say countries that have shot our planes out of the air in non-war times), it would force some changes in where manufacturing is located. One of two things would happen - the manufacturing plants would need to relocate (again), or the companies would go out of business. Either option wouldn't break my heart!
    Last edited by RandomPlanner; 30 Nov 2005 at 4:39 PM.
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RandomPlanner...
    I see your point to some degree. But realistically, if EVERYONE in the US decided not to buy products made in certain countries (say countries that have shot our planes out of the air in non-war times), it would force some changes in where manufacturing is located. One of two things would happen - the manufacturing plants would need to relocate (again), or the companies would go out of business. Either option wouldn't break my heart!
    The operative word there is "realistically." The invisible hand will guide consumers, regardless of who the vendor is. I think the best hope of something like this happening, is some kind of tariff.

    But I think imposing tariffs "because we can't compete" are a bad idea, generally. But maybe there is some justification based upon the lack of freedom that workers in some countries have. If a lack of freedom artificially depresses labor costs, than the playing field isn't really level.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by RandomPlanner...
    I see your point to some degree. But realistically, if EVERYONE in the US decided not to buy products made in certain countries (say countries that have shot our planes out of the air in non-war times), it would force some changes in where manufacturing is located. One of two things would happen - the manufacturing plants would need to relocate (again), or the companies would go out of business. Either option wouldn't break my heart!
    The problem is that "the US" is a completely arbitrary boundary. Why would someone from Alaska give a damn if his car was made in Michigan instead of Busan? What difference is there between a t-shirt from the Marianas (Made in USA!) and one from Bangladesh?

    I don't know the guy who makes most of the stuff I buy. He might be a total jerk from my country or a really nice guy trying to make it in a poor country. All I know is that the guy in the poor country is getting me a better deal, so he's a pretty damn nice guy overall.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Quote:
    Originally posted by RandomPlanner...
    This is exactly the problem!! We have become this commercialized, materialistic bunch of folks who accumulate tons of CRAP for the sake of accumulating tons of CRAP!! Do we need most of what we have? No! But if we can save 6 cents on it at the Big Box, then we should get 2, shouldn't we?? It really is starting to piss me off to see how ridiculous it has become.

    And I'll tell you, we complain about it, but do we stop shopping at these places? Most often, I'm afraid not. We could change the world if we only gave a damn!! [Incidentally, I am proud to NOT shop at Wally World. I seriously haven't been there in over 2 years - and I don't miss it. I am also proud that there is nothing I have purchased in the last year that was made in China. It actually makes my shopping a lot easier. Buying American made is a challenge I am working on. It's hard. But it's where I want my money to go, so I think it's worth the effort.]

    Emotionally, I agree with you. And, logically, we cannot continue to import everything. Still...some would argue that not "buying anything from China" means condemning the Chinese population to a life of rural village squalor?
    [Coincidentally, I just completed a 10-page report for my stock market class on Wal-Mart yesterday.]

    I fully agree with RandomPlanner. As cheap as Chinese labor is compared to American, importing all those Chinese goods is largely made possible by the still relatively low cost of oil. Wal-Mart is the end result of a society where having your own private vehicle is virtually compulsory. We screw the local economy and we screw our communities so that we can stare at a 60 inch plasma tv instead of interact with our fellow human beings.

    Internationally, Wal-Mart is having to adapt its business model a bit. Chinese and Japanese people don't live in huge houses in sprawled-out suburbs. They thus don't have the space, let alone the desire to fill their homes with stuff. And if we keep getting further into debt as a nation, Chinese banks will stop holding the $ as a reserve currency because it will be so worthless.

    We can't go on forever, acting like we can just magically shift production to wherever on the globe has the most desperate workers who'll work for peanuts, and then magically haul all that stuff to to these massive one-storey, warehouse stores, surrounded with stadiums of parking filled with cars that have come from 20 or 30 miles away. When a barrel of oil has been $100+ for ten years or more, we'll more likely be buying our stuff from multilevel stores near transit with goods produced in North America and brought to market largely by train. Or so I hope.

    At this point, we as a nation our rapidly buring through the world's oil resources as well as our own moral and economic credibility.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    We can't go on forever, acting like we can just magically shift production to wherever on the globe has the most desperate workers who'll work for peanuts, and then magically haul all that stuff to to these massive one-storey, warehouse stores, surrounded with stadiums of parking filled with cars that have come from 20 or 30 miles away. When a barrel of oil has been $100+ for ten years or more, we'll more likely be buying our stuff from multilevel stores near transit with goods produced in North America and brought to market largely by train. Or so I hope.
    This is optimistic. Are there really the natural resources locally to run a major manufacturing economy, even one that operates at a higher level of energy efficiency?

    I see Mad Max, myself. Or, some kind of Fundamentalist-Fascist State engaged in perpetual war to extract resources from the rest of the world. Read my signature line. These people BELIEVE it is our "God"-given right to do this.

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