Saturday, April 11, 2009

Conference on World Affairs

This year’s international Conference on World Affairs was, by far, the best in the last decade, perhaps because so little time needed to be devoted to Bush and Cheney. Subjects covered ran the gamut— global warming, Charles Darwin, black holes in space, Islamophobia, economic meltdown, the demise of newspapers, Rush Limbaugh, dark energy discoveries in the universe, breast cancer, American education, terrorism, international traffic in sex slavery, Mexican drug wars, and the political danger of misunderestimating the Republicans. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be summarizing many of the best ideas that I picked up from this amazing annual gathering of intellectuals.

One of the highlights was a lecture by Bill Reinert, national head of advanced technology for Toyota. His subject, of course, was the auto industry, and his talk can be summarized in three numbers— 17 million, 14 million, and 8.5 million. Last year the global auto industry produced 17 million cars. After the latest round of cutbacks, the global auto industry now has the capacity to produce 14 million cars per year. This year, the global auto industry is on track to sell 8.5 million cars. Do the math. More than any other single element, it’s overcapacity which most frightens auto industry leaders. There are currently 16 auto companies building cars around the world, and Bill Reinert’s educated prediction was that, when the economic crisis has passed, there will be 6 auto conglomerates left to supply the car industry. Don’t look for GM and Chrysler to be among them.

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