Posts tagged ‘auto industry’

Cronyism and the GM/Chrysler Bailouts

Companies and assets don't go *poof* in a bankruptcy.   In fact, if any of you are even somewhat of a frequent airline flyer, over the last 10 years you likely flew an airline in bankruptcy.  Companies operate all the time, sometimes for years, out of Chapter 11.  In fact, that is what chapter 11 is all about -- helping creditors get more value from a company by keeping it in operation  (only in truly hopeless cases, like Solyndra, is liquidation a higher value outcome for creditors than continued operation).

As such, then, the Obama Administration did not "save" GM and Chrysler, it simply managed their bankruptcy to political ends, shifting the proceeds from those guaranteed them by the rule of law to cronies and political allies.  In the process, they kept these companies on essentially the same path that led them to bankruptcy in the first place, only with a pile of taxpayer money to blow so they could hang around for a while.

To this end, the WSJ has a great editorial on the whole mess

In a true bankruptcy guided by the law rather than by a sympathetic, rule-bending political task force, GM and Chrysler would have more fully faced their competitive challenges, enjoyed more leverage to secure union concessions, and had the chance to divest money-losing operations like GM's moribund Opel unit. True bankruptcy would have lessened the chance that GM and Chrysler will stumble again, a very real possibility in the brutally competitive auto industry.

Certainly President Obama threw enough money at GM and Chrysler to create a short-term turnaround, but if the auto makers find themselves on hard times and return to Washington with hats in hand, his policy will have been no rescue at all.

I will refer the reader back to my editorial way back in 2005 why it was OK to let GM die

Believe it or Not....

... there are actually folks who think that Obama's farcical and unreachable 54.5 mpg standards for cars are too low.

Since cars are redesigned every 5 years, the 2025 date is basically 3 car revisions from now.  It also is far enough in the future the auto makers can cynically sign on now fully expecting to ignore or change the regulation in the future.

This is the corporate state in 2011.  Every single executive signing on to this is thinking "this standard is total BS."  But they go along with it because they fear the government's power over them and crave the valuable taxpayer $ giveaways this Administration has demonstrated it is willing to give its bestest buddies in the auto industry.

Of course, once again, some greenie has convinced himself this will create all sorts of jobs.   Sure, investments in car mileage is an investment in productivity (cars will uses fewer resources for the same output, ie miles driven).  BUT - the money that will be forced into this investment would come from other spending and investments.  Right now, private actors think that these other investments are a better use of the money than investing in more MPG.  I will take the market's verdict over the gut feel of an innumerate green.  So this standard is about shifting investment and spending from more to less productive uses.  Which has to reduce growth and jobs.

Labor and Capital Mobility, and the Recovery

I was thinking this weekend that one reason the US recovery may be slow is related to labor and capital mobility.

One substantial avenue to recovery in a recession has always been labor and capital mobility.  The fast labor and capital can be redeployed from losing industries to improving ones, the faster a recovery occurs.  One reasons Japan and certain European countries have had slower recoveries in the past than the US is that our mobility was higher and barriers to entrepreneurship lower.

But it strikes me that two things are going on in the US to endanger this advantage we have always enjoyed

  1. The government push for home ownership has turned out to be a trap.  Not only did it help create the bubble, whose bursting destroyed a lot of real and paper wealth, but it has greatly reduced labor mobility.  Home ownership makes labor mobility much harder even in a good housing market when one can sell his or her home easily.  In a bad market like today, very few feel they can pick up and move.  I might want to give up on the construction industry in Michigan and move to the oil patch of North Dakota, but how can I do that if I own a home that I can't sell?  A number of other actions, most notably the repeated extension of unemployment benefits, contributes to the lack of mobility.
  2. The government seems hell bent on doing everything it can to prevent, even reverse the tide, of capital mobility.  The government shifted tends of billions of capital into auto industry hands that had destroyed value for decades.  It continues to put the brakes on what should be an oil and gas exploration and production boom.  It kills health industries like light bulbs and shifts billions into useless politically powerful hands making ethanol.  The NLRB is preventing major American manufacturers from making factory investments in southern states.

In the late 1970's, the auto industry was in trouble but the oil patch was booming.  The Houston newspapers sold well in Michigan, popular for their help wanted ads.  From space, the Interstate highways between the Detroit and Texas probably looked orange from all the U-haul trailers.

The exact same dynamics could and should be occurring today.  Capital and labor should be shifting from, for example, the failing auto industry to the growing energy sector.  But the government today stands to block this reallocation. It is raising taxes on oil companies and placing barriers to their growth, while giving tax money to the auto industry and using every bit of power it can to sustain it.  Combine this type of barrier to capital flows (and auto/energy is but a couple of examples) with rising barriers to entrepreneurship, and it should be no surprise that growth is abysmal.

This is what happens in a corporate state.  Past winners retain huge amounts of power in the government long after their companies have become senescent in the marketplace.  Politicians argue for the power to pick winners and losers in the economy but generally use it only to protect current competitors and stand in the way of progress.

Shifting Capital from the Productive to the Sexy

My Forbes column this week focuses on the US rail system, and argues that despite all the angst that we are somehow missing the boat in emulating Europe, Japan and China in building expensive bullet trains, we actually have the best rail system in the world.

These writers worry that the US is somehow being left behind by China because its government builds more stuff.  We are “asleep.”  Well, here is my retort: Most of the great progress in this country occured when the government was asleep.  The railroads, the steel industry, the auto industry, the computer industry  -  all were built by individuals when the government was at best uninvolved and at worst fighting their progress at every step.

In particular, both Friedman and Epstein think we need to build more high speed passenger trains.  This is exactly the kind of gauzy non-fact-based wishful thinking that makes me extremely pleased that these folks do not have the dictatorial powers they long for.   High speed rail is a terrible investment, a black hole for pouring away money, that has little net impact on efficiency or pollution.   But rail is a powerful example because it demonstrates exactly how this bias for high-profile triumphal projects causes people to miss the obvious.

Which is this:  The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital.  It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies.    And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world.  It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s).  But here is the real key:  it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world.  Europe and Japan are not even close.  Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan.   As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States.  For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible.  You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains.  This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

Being Slower and More Beauracratic Than GM Can't Be Good

One of the reasons GM entered bankrupcy was that its slow and ponderous beauracracy couldn't handle the pace of the modern marketplace.  But one thing even than beauracracy could do was produce dealer rebate checks in a timely manner.  When many of your dealers are running on only a thin cash flow margin, even GM knew it was important to get rebate checks to dealers quickly.

So it is a bad sign that the government, who wants to run the auto industry, the banking industry and soon the health care industry, can't seem to process checks in a timely manner:

Some New Mexico auto dealers have backed out of the cash-for-clunkers program and more may do so as the federal government takes its time providing cash reimbursements.

Dealers across the state are owed more than $3.6 million, according to a dealers' group which says that so far Uncle Sam has only written three checks totaling about $14,000....

Dealerships put up the cash for the rebates after being told by the Obama administration they would be paid back within 10 days of the sale.

And here:

Hundreds of auto dealers in the New York area have withdrawn from the government's Cash for Clunkers program, citing delays in getting reimbursed by the government, a dealership group said Wednesday.The Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which represents dealerships in the New York metro area, said about half its 425 members have left the program because they cannot afford to offer more rebates. They're also worried about getting repaid....

Schienberg said the group's dealers have been repaid for only about 2 percent of the clunkers deals they've made so far.

Many dealers have said they are worried they won't get repaid at all, while others have waited so long to get reimburse

The problems cited in other analyses are two that I see all the time in dealing with the government:

  1. Obsession with minute paperwork errors, and rejection of applications for the smallest errors.  For a variety of reasons, government clerks in this kind of program seldom have the knowledge, the incentives, or even the ability to parse between errors and omissions that matter and errors and omissions that are irrelevant.   In fact, if the same application comes back 5 times, that's just more job security.  I have discussed this a number of times, as state liquor license boards have rejected our applications repeatedly for ridiculously small, meaningless errors (here and here, for example)

    Here is my prediction:  You will soon see someone inside the government blaming the dealers, saying it is all because they are not following the 300-page process correctly or not filling out the forms correctly.

  2. Absolute unwillingness to write a check.  Some of you know that I am in the odd position of being a libertarian who does a lot of business with the government, a result of my effort to privatize the operation of public recreation.  I am in the position of sometimes paying the government money (I typically don't get paid to operate a facility, I operate it for profit and pay the government a rent or concession fee) and sometime in the position of getting paid.  The government always demands all of its money owed to it well in advance (think of withholding, where you pay the government your taxes months before the true April 15 deadline).  The government only pays in arrears, and sometimes well in arrears.  Last winter, my funding troubles (when my bank holding my line of credit went bust) were aggravated by the fact that the government took 15 months to pay us $175,000 they owed us, at the same time it demanded an additional $500,000 in advance rent payments on the next year.

By the way, since every post related to the government this month must be related to health care in some way, what they government is doing on cash for clunkers is highly related to the difference in overhead costs between Medicare and private insurance companies.

The cash for clunkers processing is taking a long time in part because the government is worried about fraud and wants to make sure every car it pays out on was really qualifying and destroyed properly.  This takes time and manpower and overhead.  But this is exactly what private medical insurance companies spend their overhead on -- making sure that claims are real and justified and are not padded.  Medicare has lower overhead costs, in part because of government accounting hides some overhead, but in part because Medicare does not do any due diligence before it cuts a check.  It gets a form, it sends out a check.  It does little checking to see if the claim is real.

Why Electric Cars Are Not Really The Answer

Look, I would love to have a good all-electric vehicle with a 100-mile range.  I love the torque of electric motors, and have had a blast every time I have driven a Prius.  But to get over-focused on all this mess is to miss the real problem American auto manufacturers have failed to deal with (via Carpe Diem)

cars1

If went back in time and showed US auto makers this chart in 1995, they would have said "holy cr*p!  We're screwed!"  And they were.  American auto makers still made cars like they were in the 1950's auto industry.  Asian manufacturers made cars like they were in the modern PC industry.

Dude, The Market Figured That Out 6 Months Ago Before You Started Shoveling My Money At Them

After giving tens of billions of dollars of our money to the auto makers, Obama has now figured out what I and many others knew years ago:

Obama, responding to a question during an online town hall meeting, said the current business model for U.S. carmakers was unsustainable and the Big Three would need to change their ways.

From the article, however, it is still clear that Obama has no intention of allowing GM to go into chapter 11, as they should have 6 months ago.   There is a good political reason for this -- remember what I explained before.   Obama is working to equate chapter 11 with the disappearance of the American auto industry, clearly an untrue and facile proposition.  Many large companies, from airlines to energy companies to equipment manufacturers, have gone bankrupt over the last several decades and continued operations or at least had their productive assets taken over by other companies.  GM's assets are not just going to go poof.

However, there is a clear set of winners and losers in a bankruptcy -- and there is enough case law on it that all the players at GM know it and they know into which category they fall.  Those who are lower down the food chain are hoping that putting the restructuring in Obama's hands rather than those of the bankruptcy process will improve their outcomes.  And, to get those higher on the food chain (ie senior debt holders) to accept this they need the government to bring taxpayer money to the table.  The whole point of an Obama-led restructuring, then, is not to somehow preserve the US auto industry but to improve the financial position of certain GM stakeholders at the expense of US taxpayers  (and probably consumers, and some sort of protectionism is likely to be part of this deal).

But here is the most interesting point that was really hammered into me in reading this article.  If you were to rank Obama as to where he stood vis a vis all American adults in terms of his knowledge of business and what it takes for a company to be successful, where would you rank him?  I don't think very many would put him in the top half.  In fact, given that he has never, to my knowledge, had any real job in business of any sort (not even a high school job at McDonald's or something similar), I am not sure I would put him above the 10th percentile.  Anyway, put your own number to this question, and then read these quotes from the linked article

The president said he planned to announce decisions on the future of the industry in the coming days.

"But my job is to measure the costs of allowing these auto companies just to collapse versus us figuring out - can they come up with a viable plan?" he said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama will announce his strategy for the auto industry before he leaves for Europe on Tuesday.

Seriously, would you hand over your business or your stock portfolio for Obama to manage?  I didn't think so.  It takes years of experience to be able to read a business plan skeptically.  And even people who are experienced at it fail a lot.

By the way, for those who suspect that decisions will not be based on actual market realities but satisfaction of pet political goals, you are probably correct:

The president said even as the economy bounces back, Detroit can't focus on "trying to build more and more SUVs and counting on gas prices being low."...

Gibbs said Obama still thinks U.S. automakers build cars that Americans want to buy. Both he and the president own Ford Escape hybrids. "It's a nice car," Gibbs said. "It really is."

So, for example, one can assume its likely the Obama strategy for GM success will include lots of hybrids.  Of course, the market reality is this:

the slowdown has been particularly brutal for hybrids, which use electricity and gasoline as power sources. They were the industry's darling just last summer,  but sales have collapsed as consumers refuse to pay a premium for a fuel-efficient vehicle now that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally has slipped below $2.

"When gas prices came down, the priority of buying a hybrid fell off quite quickly," said Wes Brown, a partner at Los Angeles-based market research firm Iceology.

I personally believe that a meer restructuring of GM is unlikely to create a turnaround, as I discussed here.

Postscript- It is a bit apples and oranges for me to say that Obama is evaluating business plans here.  In fact, he is not.  Though he calls them that, if the Chrysler retructuring plan they put on the web is any guide, these are political plans, not business plans.  No real business plan, for example, seeking to attract private capital would prioritize the goals "Commitment to Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability", "Compliance with Fuel Economy Regulations," and "Compliance with Emissions Regulations" ahead of "Achieving a Competitive Product Mix and Cost Structure."  In fact, the section about costs and competitive products comes dead last in the Chrysler plan, almost as an afterthought.

Update: This sad story about athletes and their difficulty in managing their money seems relevent.  These guys, who have spent their whole life getting really good at one thing, don't even have the basic financial vocabulary to understand money management, and absolutely no ability to parse a business plan:

It began in the winter of 1991 when he sank $300,000 into the Rock N' Roll Café, a theme restaurant in New England designed to ride the wave of the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood franchises. One of his advisers pitched the idea as "fail-proof, with no downsides," Ismail recalls. He never recouped his money and has no idea what became of the restaurant.

Lesson learned? If only. After that Ismail squandered a fortune funding not only that inspirational movie but also the music label COZ Records ("The guy was a real good talker," says Rocket); a cosmetics procedure whereby oxygen was absorbed into the skin ("We were not prepared for the sharks in the beauty industry"); a plan to create nationwide phone-card dispensers ("When I was in college, phone cards were a big deal"); and, recently, three shops dubbed It's in the Name, where tourists could buy framed calligraphy of names or proverbs of their choice ("The main store opened up in New Orleans, but doggone Hurricane Katrina came two months later"). The shops no longer exist.

You might say Ismail had a run of terrible luck, but the odds were never close to being in his favor. Industry experts estimate that only one in 30 of the highest-caliber private investment deals works out as advertised. "Chronic overallocation into real estate and bad private equity is the Number 1 problem [for athletes] in terms of a financial meltdown," Butowsky says. "And I've never seen more people come to me about raising money for those kinds of deals than athletes."

Doesn't this sound like the current administration in microcosm?  Does Obama have any better chance with his GM investment?

Worst Economic Prescription of the Week

I hate to pick on Kevin Drum twice in a row, but my God is this the worst economic prescription you have read of late:

The only sustainable source of consistent growth is rising median wages. The rich just don't spend enough all by themselves.

The flip side of this, of course, is that rich people are going to have to accept the fact that they don't get all the money anymore. Their incomes will still grow, but no faster than anyone else's.

How do we make this happen, though? I'm not sure. Stronger unions are a part of it. Maybe a higher minimum wage. Stronger immigration controls. More progressive taxation. National healthcare. Education reforms. Maybe it's just a gigantic cultural adjustment. Add your own favorite policy prescription here.

This isn't just a matter of social justice. It's a matter of facing reality. If we want a strong economy, we can only get it over the long term if we figure out a way for the benefits of economic growth to flow to everyone, not just the rich. This is, by far, Barack Obama's biggest economic challenge. Until median wages start rising steadily and consistently, we haven't gotten ourselves back on track.

This is so crazy, its is hard to know where to begin.  And since it is after midnight, I will keep it short.  But here are a few thoughts:

  • Note the embedded theory here of income and wealth, which is really startling.  For Drum and most of the left, income is this sort of fountain that spews forth on its own out in the desert somewhere.   Rich people are the piggy folks who crowd close to the fountain and take more than their fair share of what is flowing out.  There is absolutely no recognition that possibly wealth is correlated with individual initiative, work, intelligence, and behaviors.  More on zero-sum economic thinking here and here.
  • I am sick and tired of the "stagnant median income" meme.  How many times does this have to be debunked?  But the quick version is
  1. Median total compensation per individual is not stagnant, it has risen steadily.  The only way to show stagnant incomes is to look only at cash wages, and ignore the shift in compensation value to health care and other non-cash benefits.  Also, folks trying to push this meme typically look at household income rather than individual income, but since household sizes have been shrinking rapidly, it skews the data.
  2. Median income numbers are weighed down by strong (legal and illegal) immigration.  New immigrants entering at the bottom bring the median down.  If one were to look at apples and apples, ie the same people without immigrants ten years ago and today, one would see strong median income growth.  Just to drive the point home, if there have been 10 million new immigrants at the poor end of the economy, then one needs to count up the list of incomes 10 million spaces to get the true apples-to-apples median income comparison.
  3. Individuals matter, not medians.  Even with a stagnant median income, all individuals can and probably are doing better as incomes improve with age.
  4. A lot more here
  • I feel like I am living in some weird new incarnation of Brave New World or Midas World where the government sets its highest purpose as promoting ever-higher consumer spending.  The last such goal the government set for itself was increasing home ownership.  And that worked out really well.
  • This is back to the 70's time, something I have been predicting for a while.  How is it that educated people can believe that protectionism + strong restrictions on the free movement of people + higher taxes + government tilt of the labor management bargaining power further towards the unions + creation of a massive new government bureaucracy = increased prosperity?  I think of all the crap I catch from leftists that I am somehow anti-science and anti-reason for being a climate skeptic.  But economics is a science too, and willful ignorance of that science is far more destructive than other instances of scientific ignorance to which they point.
  • Isn't protectionism + strong unions + comprehensive 3rd party-paid health care + high government regulation exactly the approach the US auto industry has taken.  How's that working out?

We're All Technocrats

The auto bailout is dead, at least for now:

A bailout-weary Congress killed a $14 billion package to aid struggling U.S. automakers Thursday night after a partisan dispute over union wage cuts derailed a last-ditch effort to revive the emergency
aid before year's end.

Republicans, breaking sharply with President George W. Bush as his term draws to a close, refused to back federal aid for Detroit's beleaguered Big Three without a guarantee that the United Auto Workers would agree by the end of next year to wage cuts to bring their pay into line with U.S. plants of Japanese carmakers. The UAW refused to do so before its current contract with the automakers expires in 2011.

Good.  Chapter 11 was made for this kind of situation, and folks will quickly come to understand that productive assets don't go *poof* in a bankruptcy  (though equity values can).

By the way, you will note that Senate Republicans did not suddenly become economic libertarians.  Their objection seems to be that the bill does not micro-manage the auto industry they same way they would want to micro-manage the auto industry.  You can see in these political battles that Congress brings its usual identity politics to these decisions:  Republicans want to hammer the unions, Democrats want to hammer executive pay.  Which is why these restructuring discussions don't belong in Congress.

More Auto Bailout Thoughts

I don't think I have ever gotten as much mail from as many different readers as I have received on the auto bailout.  Readers seem fairly unified in their outrage and horror at the prospect.

Via insty:

Nancy Pelosi calls the deal a barber shop, where everybody will take a haircut.

There is already an available process for operating companies that cannot meet their obligations where all the parties take a haircut:  Its called chapter 11.  We have about a zillion man-years of experience with it, in companies great and small.  And it does not take idiotic Senators flashing billions of our tax money to mediate it.

The auto industry is tremendously magnetic for wannabee technocrats in Congress, in large part because in perhaps no other industry is there a bigger gap between what the average American wants to buy and what the country's intelligentsia things they should buy.

But US automakers are failing because they have not been very responsive to customers; they have grown fat and complacent, feeling protected by their monopoly power position; they have consistently failed over decades-long periods to make tough decisions vis-a-vis labor and costs; and they have refused to make real prioritization decisions (GM brand strategy is a good example).  It is therefore hilarious that Congress thinks it can do better, because wouldn't these same traits be high on the list of failings of the Federal Government itself?

And this is funny, if you have not seen it yet.

Additional Thoughts on Letting GM Die

I have gotten a lot of email on my posts about allowing GM to die.  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. No matter what our mutual preferences, GM is not actually going to die.  It will go in to chapter 11 and reorganize, and, as that law intends, will continue to operate through that reorganization.  While Lehman and Enron liquidated, they were really special cases having more to do with financial than operating assets.  In the last 20 years, Texaco, PG&E, Worldcom, Delta, and UAL have all passed through chapter 11, and all operated their businesses through bankruptcy.  In fact, all of Enron's pipelines and other operating assets are running A-OK right now, just under new ownership.  Do you remember all those news stories about massive natural gas shortages because Enron's pipelines all stopped operating when it declared bankruptcy?  Yeah, neither did I.
  2. You are welcome to write me about how I suck because your job at GM (or retirement, or health care, or all of the above) is important to you if that helps you psychologically to manage a terrible and stressful time.  But, to cause me to back off my opinion about GM and the bailout, you need to tell me why your job is more important than someone else's job.  Because, unlike private enterprise, the government does not create wealth, but can only move it around (with a leaky bucket, at that).  GM has wasted hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, so having the government invest money to save your job will likely cost >1 job somewhere else.  Just because we don't, and may never know, who that specific person is does not make this an ethical choice. 
  3. I too, all things being equal, value having a healthy auto industry in the US  (which in fact we still have -- it just happens the headquarters of many of the companies that run the plants are over in Japan).  However, if you wish to argue that the bailout is necessary to save a US auto industry, you in fact need to argue that the current set of managers/contracts/systems/performance measures/organization/etc. of GM are better able to manage the employees and assets of GM than a different owner with different managers and approaches.  Because having GM fail does not make the assets or trained people disappear, it merely makes it more likely they will be managed by a different entity.  So all a bailout does is save the GM entity that manages these assets and people.

Yet More Economic Ignorance

Don Boudreax shares this leftish view of the auto bailout from Pat Garofalo:

More importantly though - as Pelosi and Reid said - "federal aid should come with 'strong conditions,' such as requirements that car makers build more fuel-efficient vehicles." Bill Scher at OurFuture writes, "With the auto industry in dire straits, we taxpayers have maximum leverage to demand the cars necessary to help lower energy costs, cut carbon emissions and reduce our dependency on foreign oil."

So, uh, only when the government gets involved do consumers have any leverage with producers in terms of what products they produce?  Hello?  I'm sure Circuit City execs will be relieved to hear this.

In free markets, consumers have all the leverage in determining perhaps not what gets produced, but at least what gets sold in any marketplace.  Producers who are unable to match what they produce to what consumers buy eventually go bankrupt.  In fact, it is this process of consumers exercising their leverage with GM that Congress is attempting to interrupt with a bailout. Consumers are telling GM loud and clear that GM is not making the cars at the price points they want.  Unable to do so, GM will likely fail.  This failure will result either in 1) GM, under bankruptcy protection, shedding any number of constraints that are preventing it from making what the consumers want or 2) GM liquidating its production assets to other owner/management groups who can do a better job with them.

This quote is a great example of the technocratic bent many leading Democrats bring to economics.  What these guys are asking for is not leverage for consumers, but leverage for a few Democratic technocrats to makeover the auto industry the way they want it.  People like Nancy Pelosi who would never in a million years be given the keys to a manufacturing corporation by a sane ownership group can effectively grab that jobs via the leverage her seat in Congress gives her.

Postscript: Garofalo adds:

250,000 people and if you think about the ripple effects, they are the backbone of our manufacturing economy." Indeed, according to estimates, one in 12 U.S. jobs is tied to car manufacturing, and a bailout of the industry could help boost the U.S.'s ailing manufacturing sector.

A couple of points.  First, a GM bankruptcy is hugely, enormously unlikely to mean the whole company is just shut down.  If you have flown in the last 10 years, unless you have favored only Southwest Airlines, you probably have traveled on a carrier in chapter 11.  That's what chapter 11 is - a breathing space while the company continues to operate but is able to restructure its liabilities.  Personally, I would love to see the company go chapter 7 and have a new wave of innovative people take over the assets and see what they could do with them.  But it is not going to happen.  GM may shed jobs over the next year, but they are going to do so anyway in the teeth of a recession, not because they went bankrupt.

Podesta must know that the issue in a bankruptcy will not be jobs, but labor contracts  (airlines have practically patented the chapter 11 vehicle for renegotiating union contracts).  Most GM manufacturing employees would probably keep their jobs through a bankruptcy, but they may well lose their contract that says they get paid $75.86 an hour with 34.5 days a year of paid leave.  Garofalo and Podesta are shilling for the union over wage bargaining, not jobs.

The other observation I want to make is to ask why the loss of these 250,000 jobs is going to be so much worse than the loss of 500,000 jobs over the last several years.

auto_jobs

I know parts of Michigan suffered, but Podesta is claiming knock-on effects for the whole country.  So where were they?

For Those Who Doubted Me When I Said We Are Heading Towards A European-Style Corporate State

I predicted it here.  Now see it here:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Congress is considering bailing out Detroit's Big Three automakers."We may need to make a statement of confidence in our auto industry," Pelosi told NPR this afternoon. "We're not saving those companies, we're saving an industry. We're saving an industrial technological and manufacturing base... It's about jobs in America."

I wrote why its better to let GM fail.

So what if GM dies?  Letting the GM's of the world die is one of the best possible things we can do for our economy and the wealth of our nation.  Assuming GM's DNA has a less than one multiplier, then releasing GM's assets from GM's control actually increases value.  Talented engineers, after some admittedly painful personal dislocation, find jobs designing things people want and value.  Their output has more value, which in the long run helps everyone, including themselves.

The alternative to not letting GM die is, well, Europe (and Japan).  A LOT of Europe's productive assets are locked up in a few very large corporations with close ties to the state which are not allowed to fail, which are subsidized, protected from competition, etc.  In conjunction with European laws that limit labor mobility, protecting corporate dinosaurs has locked all of Europe's most productive human and physical assets into organizations with DNA multipliers less than one.

Pelosi held a meeting Monday with Democratic leaders to consider a request from Detroit's Big Three automakers for another $25 billion in "bridge financing" to help them survive a huge downturn in auto industry.

Good Money After Bad

If the world's citizens will not freely lend the Big Three automakers money of their own free will, then Congress is considering using force to make it happen.

Auto industry allies hope to secure
up to $50 billion in federal t loans this month to modernize plants and
help struggling car makers build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Congress returns this coming week from its summer break, and the
auto industry plans an aggressive lobbying campaign for the
low-interest loans.

I wrote earlier on why we should not be afraid to let GM fail.  Paul Ingrassia makes this point:

Any
low-interest loans to develop fuel-efficient cars should be made
available to all car companies, not just the Detroit Three. The law
passed by Congress last year is framed to make this highly unlikely.
But if developing fuel-efficient and alternative-energy cars is deemed
worthy of taxpayer subsidies for public-policy purposes, it's just
common sense not to put all our eggs in Detroit's basket.

I would have gone further and said that US automakers are perhaps the last one's one would entrust with limited capital resources to develop such a new technology.  What would have happened to the PC revolution had the government circa 1975 limited all the available investment capital for new computing technologies to IBM, DEC, Honeywell, etc.

OK, I am Not the Only One Asking This Question

OK, the comment thread in my post on Romney evolved into a good discussion on health care, but I did not get a very good answer on how Romney supporters could possibly consider him the inheritor of the Reagan small-government legacy.  Apparently, I am not the only one confused on this, as both Michael Tanner and Jerry Taylor chime in with the same question.

What does it say about the Republican Party when the leading fusionist conservative in the field - Mitt Romney, darling of National Review and erstwhile heir to Ronald Reagan -
runs and wins a campaign arguing that the federal government is
responsible for all of the ills facing the U.S. auto industry, that the
taxpayer should pony up the corporate welfare checks going to Detroit
and increase them by a factor of five, that the federal
government can and should move heaven and earth to save "every job" at
risk in this economy, and that economic recovery is best achieved by a
sit-down involving auto industry CEOs, labor bosses, and government
agents armed with Harvard MBAs to produce a well-coordinated strategic
economic plan? That is, what explains the emergence of economic fascism
(in a non-pejorative sense) in the Grand Old Party at the expense of
free market capitalism?

Unfortunately, 1970-style Nixonian Republicans are back in force.  Can "Whip Inflation Now" buttons be far behind?

Update:  Apparently William F. Buckley is happily returning to the 70's as well.

Our Government in Action

A few weeks ago I responded to Economist Philip Verleger, a classic technocrat, who lamented what private industry had done with the auto industry and felt government run by smart people like himself could do better:

Suppose a government plan could revitalize the
automobile industry and the rest of the transportation sector, encouraging it to
leapfrog several generations of technology; suppose this same plan could cut
U.S. dependence on foreign oil to zero; and suppose, finally, that the plan
could develop new technologies that would bump our economy to a higher growth
path and foster U.S. economic leadership in the 21st century. Would that idea be
worth exploring?

I am not sure there are that many adults who don't also believe in Santa Claus who can imagine the government succeeding at this, but in case there are, here are some further thoughts on government efficiency:

But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on
their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal
government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson
County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

The cleanup in Jackson County and its municipalities has not only cost
millions of dollars more than in neighboring counties, but it is also taking
longer. The latest available figures show that 39 percent of the work was
complete in Jackson County, while 57 percent was done in Harrison County and its
cities that are managing the job on their own, according to federal records....

Pascagoula and other Jackson County cities are sticking with the corps. But City
Manager Kay Kell of Pascagoula said she was disappointed. Her city had a private
contract to clean debris for $7.80 a cubic yard, but now relies on the corps,
which is paying its contractor $17 to $19 a cubic yard for the same work....

Officials in Jackson County and Pascagoula cite numerous reasons for the
delays.

One is the complexity of the contract the Corps of Engineers has with
Ashbritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that is overseeing the debris
collection in Mississippi
and parts of Louisiana. Its 192 pages include sections on the type of office
paper the company uses and a ban on releasing information to the news media
without the written permission of the Army Corps. (Ashbritt officials declined
to comment for this article.)

Simply getting an agreement from the Army Corps on the exact wording for the
legal release document that residents must sign to authorize contractors to
clear their homes took several weeks, officials said.

Then the Army Corps and its federal partners repeatedly gave new demands,
such as satellite-based measurements on the location of each house, before
large-scale clearing could start, county officials said.

More Nutty Tort Decisions

Frequent readers of this site will know that I am a strong opponent of how the current tort system works.  However, I am not a big supporter of damage caps.  Damage caps may limit the harm of a broken tort system, but they don't fix the root problem - the jackpot justice that seeks wealth transfers from wealthy parties irrespective of who was really at fault.  For example, note this case, where teens who were not wearing their seat belts were killed by a driver breaking the speed limit and with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit.  The jury decided the accident was 90% the fault of... Ford, for designing a car with the same glass used by everyone else in the auto industry.  But the unfairness of the decision is only the beginning of the outright nuttiness and fraud by the plaintiff in this case.  Make sure to go to this article - you have to scroll to the article on Ford appealing frontier justice, but the extra finger work is justified.