Wednesday, July 26, 2017
  Incremental vs incestuous status

Convective thought.

GM was the dominant carmaker for 30 years because Harley Earl understood what a car is. Others thought a car was a transportation device. Harley knew that a car is a status marker, and he ESPECIALLY knew how status really works.

Other carmakers tried to use status but either missed the point or used the wrong form of status.

The other luxury makes, Packard and Peerless and Pierce, were operating on a highly refined in-group status rule. Status measured by discernment, like wine vintages. If you can tell the difference between a Clos de Vougeot from the third row of the vineyard and a Clos de Vougeot from the fourth row of the vineyard, you're IN. Packard's managers were all Episcopalians and 33rd degree Masons. A non-Mason can't recognize a 33rd degree Mason, but other 33s can. So the Packard car was quiet and unadorned, meant to be discerned by other Packard owners.

The problem with status by discernment is obvious. When your status is known innately by others of the same innate caste, you don't need to buy a car for status. Even worse, buying products to show off your status guarantees that you will never gain entry to the club of refined discernment. Packard's slogan was "Ask the man who owns one." If you are in a position to ask him, you don't need to ask him. If you have to ask, you can't afford the status.

Harley grasped the basic broad fact that status, like all other human senses, is dynamic and incremental. Status is proportional to the temporal baseline of last year and the spatial baseline of neighbors and friends and family. Harley made the ranking of GM cars INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE in both time and space. Anyone could tell this year's model from last year's, and anyone could distinguish an Olds from a Caddy, and anyone could discern an Olds 98 from an Olds 88.

Interestingly, he also provided models for oddballs who wanted to opt off the status ladder. Owning a Chevy 150, with zero chrome and gray interior, declared a NULL status variable.

Chrysler tried to copy GM's hierarchy from the start but didn't catch the music until 1955. Chrysler offered four brands with different prices and didn't give you any VISIBLE reason to hunger for the more expensive brand. No envy tools. Often the Dodge was more attractive than the Chrysler, and often the smaller cars looked bigger than the big cars.

Ford didn't do status at all until grandson Henry II took over after the war. Henry Senior was a dead serious Populist. Cars were transportation devices and nothing else. Ford offered varied models to fit varied transportation needs and nothing else.

By the time Packard finally picked up the status ball in 1956, it was WAY too late.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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