In response to my post about the misdirected-at-best union strategies in regards to auto industry woes in Ontario, SilverMoonWolf writes:
I may not be as informed as you, but I can draw opinion on what I do know about this and the whole “bailout” buzz word now.
When a horse breaks its leg, you don’t coddle it and tend to its weakness as it will NEVER get better. You shoot it so something better can take its place.
The problem is that General Motors is not a horse. You can get a new horse quite easily at the horse store, because there are lots of horses. General Motors, on the other hand, is the ninth-largest corporation in the world. It employs a quarter of a million people in the United States directly and god knows how many indirectly. If GM went out of business tomorrow, the other auto companies can’t pick up the slack because they’re hurting too.1 This is to say nothing of the fact that GM’s primary income stream is not in fact selling their cars, but the car loans they arrange so that people can buy their cars – want to see what happens when a giant creditor goes bankrupt?2
Shooting GM in the head simply isn’t an option: it’s too big and its loss would do too much damage. I’ve seen economists suggest that the loss of GM alone could swing the current American recession into a full-blown depression. You can say “well, we shouldn’t have companies that are too big to fail,” and that’s a valid point of view, but that doesn’t make the economic-violence plan an equally valid answer in response to the current crisis because you can’t do, say, a Ma Bell-style corporate megasplit if said corporation is suddenly nonexistent.
Moreover, shooting GM in the head isn’t even a good comparative idea, because unlike the horse, there’s no reason GM can’t be saved. Its decline was the result of accounting culture taking over the management of the company from the engineering culture that ran it up until the mid-70s (which is also the reason most of their cars are comparatively shitty nowadays). Affecting the management style and roster of GM is something the federal government can do with a bailout. After all, a bailout is, in its purest essence, a loan – and any loan officer worth their salt can require reasonable preconditions for that loan.3
Finally, it’s worth noting that the scandal of the Wall Street buyouts from a rational perspective isn’t that investment firms went buck-wild, because the government let them go buck-wild and voters in turn didn’t bother paying attention and let the government let the firms go buck-wild. The Wall Street meltdown is the result of negligence in all quarters, pure and simple, and nobody has any excuse because really smart people with economics degrees were saying “hey, guys, this is going to end up fucking us in the ass” years ago and nobody paid attention.
No, the scandal of the Wall Street buyouts has been the response from all concerned, from Henry Paulsen initially offering what amounted to a blank cheque to Wall Street firms refusing to trim fat as they got their paydays to the public’s offended face that these investment firms weren’t fiscally responsible when nobody was paying attention (and remember, the average member of the American public has a negative savings rate nowadays, so who the hell are they to complain about others’ fiscal negligence)? It’s the combination of offended self-importance and sheer ignorance of the problems at hand exhibited by just about everybody, be they in charge or not, that irritates me. It’s one of the reasons that Kel Mitchell’s “FIX IT!” analyst character on Saturday Night Live is so painfully unfunny – it’s too on target.4
- The Japanese companies are hurting less because they planned for this in the long run, but there are limits to one’s ability to plan. [↩]
- Hint: you really, really don’t. [↩]
- Also note that the history of government bailouts of the private sector, at least in the United States, is one of eventual government profit as the loans are eventually paid off. [↩]
- The other reasons, of course, being that Kel Mitchell is not good, and the writers writing the character are not good. [↩]