Clotaire Rapaille is the French person who convinced insecure Americans to buy larger and larger SUVs, and accomplished that during a time when some Americans despised all things French to the point that we had to endure “Freedom Fries.” Rapaille possesses a long track record of tapping into the techniques that demonstrate markets do not work the way so many these days want to endorse, a simple version of supply and demand exchanges in which consumers’ needs determine the products businesses produce — not the other way around. Rapaille has disproven that simple view several times, with several different products, helping businesses to sell to Americans (and others) Eau de Snake Oil in a way that causes the consumers to imagine they need the snake oil.
Here in Texas, we have plenty of mammoth vehicles driven by those insecure Americans Rapaille told the Detroit automakers they could rely upon to express their psychological fragility by paying excessive sums for wholly impractical, elephantine vehicles. The delicious undertone of Rapaille’s laughter can be heard in the defensive rationalizations provided by the people who succumbed to the sales pitch. They feel safer. They have more room for the spoiled children. Some have tax breaks from the government for being suckered into the sale. It’s no accident that another French person, Pierre L’Enfant, designed Washington D.C. on behalf of the first President of the United States. During the “Freedom Fries” episode, some Americans forgot about the French people, such as L’Enfant, who fought alongside other members of Washington’s army in the cause of American independence. Such details complicate a simple story that depicts Americans as always in the driver’s seat.
As the automakers plead their case for maintaining the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, the President issues public statements about wanting to rescue the market rather than the workers of Chrysler, Ford, and GM. The President worries about “the psychology of the markets,” as if, thanks to Rapaille and his rhetorical victims, the markets were not already in a psychological state one must describe as pathological. At least one piece of evidence for the pathology manifested itself in late September when a journalist wanted to know how the government decided that $700 billion for various Wall Street businesses would be the correct number to bring about an ecomonic panacea, and the response was: “It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”