Economics reporter Peter Goodman again made the paper's Sunday Week in Review section with a philosophical piece on the ramifications of a company from Communist China buying up that symbol of American overkill, Hummer, from General Motors - "What Would Mao Drive? A Little Red...Hummer."
Even in a world mostly done being amazed by the ironies of globalization, last week managed to produce something fresh and previously unfathomable: General Motors, newly bankrupt and struggling to raise cash, agreed to sell its Hummer division to a company from China.
Yes, that Hummer, maker of the famously gas-guzzling behemoths whose menacing width and armor trace their provenance to the American military, is now set to become the property of Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company, in a land officially still called the People's Republic of China.
...China has put the automobile at the center of contemporary life. China has torn down older buildings in every major city to make way for more vehicles. It has erected an impressive network of highways crisscrossing the vast country. Air quality and energy efficiency have been outweighed by reverence for the car.
This has not happened randomly. In recent times, China's leaders have unleashed enormous quantities of state finance to seed auto ventures in every province, spurring industries that have grown along with the ubiquity of the car. Petrochemicals, steel, glass-making and rubber have all expanded to feed auto-making. Tourism and retail shopping have increased as more Chinese take possession of steering wheels.
Along the way, many Chinese aspirations have come to focus on car ownership. In a country where so many people look back with bitterness on the regimented days of Maoism, and where public transportation still involves packing into belching buses and gruesomely crowded trains, the car has become a vessel for Chinese dreams.
Goodman sees a worrisome, U.S.-style social divide opening up in China, with the "wasteful decadence" of the Hummer as its symbol:
...In the new Chinese social divide, the middle class hews to economical vehicles with tiny engines, while the wealthy fuss with automatic climate control in their luxury sedans.
So it actually seems fitting that Hummer will be a Chinese brand. A vehicle that makes sense only as a pastime, with its miserable gas mileage, the Hummer has become an object increasingly shunned in the United States as a sign of wasteful decadence (not to mention something that most Americans can no longer afford). China, primed to consume and long since shorn of its collectively imposed thrift, will take a crack at extracting profit by selling the hulking beasts.