Thursday, November 20, 2008

Crashing and Burning

Here in Michigan, on TV, it's all about the proposed Big Three bailout, or lack thereof. The story dominates the local television affiliates; car dealers have stepped up ads urging viewers to "Buy American" and "Stop Sending Jobs to China." Here in the northwoods, where well-heeled union retirees have helped support the local economy for years, and where a good portion of the businesses that populate modest small-town industrial parks are suppliers to the auto industry, the news is especially grim.

So it's hard for me to say this. But I want to say it.

It's about time. It's about time that this bloated, unsustainable, increasingly obsolete and arrogant system crashes and burns.

Don't get me wrong. The auto industry has been good to my extended family. My uncles -- farm boys with a minimal education and few career prospects -- enjoyed an incredible standard of living thanks to the Big Three. The auto industry has been good to education and the arts in Michigan. Union members have been generous with money and time donated to good causes in this part of the state.

But the auto industry has been an industrial bully in this country for decades -- squelching development of a comprehensive public transit system; killing passenger rail travel; fighting environmental legislation; going so far as to sabotage their own alternative-fuel vehicle programs in an effort to maintain their status quo. The auto execs' infamous $20,000 private jet trips to D.C. this week is just the latest example of the Big Three's arrogance and cluelessness.

And the corporate greed of the automobile companies has only been matched by that of autoworkers. For years not only autoworkers but autoworker retirees have made more money than either blue-collar workers or many white-collar professionals in this part of the state. It wasn't a tenable system; and the union leadership's "Yeah, but look at how greedy management is" response is just so much schoolyard I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I posturing by equally irresponsible people.

This is just a big, unholy mess. And I don't see how bailing the players out for another few months, until the next financial crisis in Detroit, is going to de-mess the situation.

I feel sorry for retirees in danger of losing pensions and benefits. I feel sorry for the employees of the little non-union shops up here in rural Michigan and elsewhere.

But not sorry enough to support a bailout. In a world of "change or die," the Big Three, as well as their union employees, have refused to change.


Sally said...

I completely agree with you. I never thought I would agree with Mitt Romney, but here I am, agreeing with Mitt Romney.

I assume you saw this piece in the Washington Post? Mind-boggling.


Gene said...

I gotta agree, but it's going to be painful as all get-out. Not just in Michigan, but everywhere there are assembly plants, parts suppliers, etc. And that's going to have a huge affect on the already flailing economy.

I grew up in Michigan (~20 miles south of Detroit), and watched the then Big 3 learn nothing from the 70's oil crisis, fight tooth and nail to prevent raising CAFE standards, etc. And now they seemed totally surprised when people stopped buying SUVs. About the only bright spot I remember was the bailout of Chrysler under Lee Iaccoca, which actually worked and they paid it off.

A good article over at the WSJ titled "How Detroit Drove into a Ditch"

Tom in Ontario said...

Ontario actually produces more automobiles than Michigan. We've got the big three plus Honda and Toyota. Honda and Toyota workers make on average $48/hour. The big 3 workers make on average $70-something/hour.

A couple of years ago we had to replace our family minivan. We had a '96 Ford Windstar that had the transmission replaced once already and needed another one so we gave up on it. So we started to look for a used van to replace it. We did our research on Consumer Reports and various online sites and they were unanimous in rating the Honda and Toyota as #1 and #2 and vice versa. They just build better cars, and they build them right here, and they're not looking for government bailouts.

There's got to be some connection