Thursday, November 13, 2008

Should We Help GM?

Back a few posts ago, I wrote about why I thought we had to bail out the banking system even though the industry ended up where it is today by being arrogant, greedy, short-sighted and in fact, just plain stupid in many cases. Even though they didn't deserve it, the reason I advocated fronting them all that money was because a functioning banking system is critical for the rest of us to be able to live in a healthy economic environment.

What happens to Wall Street is like a snowball rolling down the hill, threatening to engulf everyone at the bottom. If they don't loan us money, we can't buy home or cars or go Christmas shopping or take vacations. That is bad news for the car dealers, realtors, stores and hotels. And that means the car dealers, realtors, stores and hotels will hire fewer people or even lay off the staff they already have, which means the economy gets worse and the banks retrench even more. It is like those little nesting dolls, getting smaller and smaller as the outside doll is shed. So we have to save the financial institutions in order to save ourselves.

And now we're faced with the economic meltdown of the American auto industry and yes, in part it happened because the Big Three automakers have been arrogant, greedy, short-sighted and sometimes, just plain stupid. You might add the unions in there too.

Nevertheless, a functioning auto industry is equally as important to America as a functioning banking industry. Not just an auto industry actually but an entire manufacturing base of which the automakers have been the gold standard in so far as the American worker is concerned. So it is my belief that we simply must shore up Chrysler, G.M. and Ford and help them weather this recessionary storm, for the sake of the country as a whole.

It amazes me though how the movers and shakers on t.v. and in newspapers have a completely different view of these two sectors of the U.S. economy. The banks? Oh, yes, it is critical to assist them to the tune of gazillions of dollars, whatever it takes! This is the prestige industry. These are the V.I.P.'s of American business. So they used a lot of the money entrusted to them to buy yachts and mansions and to have extravagant parties and to pay themselves commissions that rival the income of Saudi sheiks. Okay, maybe they went a little overboard but come on, it is no more than they deserve. They are, after all, the Power People.

But the automakers, not so much. Who do they employ? Not the courageous captains of finance, not the daring boys in the suits, poring over stock portfolios. Nah, GM and Chrysler and Ford give over most of their payroll to men and women who punch time clocks and operate punch presses, folks who wear jeans and carry lunch buckets. How freakin' important could they be in the scheme of things?

For decades now, this country has sniffed its collective nose at its factories and the people who work in them. We watched our manufacturing base go off-shore where they could hire employees for slave wages. We watched countries who were our enemies once, and could very well be again, producing military parts critical to our defense. We turned our food industry over to China so that now we have to worry about God knows what poisonous substances showing up in our tuna. We buy our toys from Taiwan or Ceylon or Saigon with low to no quality control so our children are subjected to non-flame-retardant materials and loose springs and exploding triggers.

And as we watched it happen, the powers-that-be in Congress nodded their heads in approval content that we should no longer be a country that produces anything but one that does what? Hell, I don't know what we're known for now that the dot.commers and the bankers have gone bust. How fast we can get a burger out the drive-through window, I guess.

No one cared because our production workers simply weren't considered worth saving and they still aren't. The very Congress they stayed up all night working on a bail-out package to save Lehman Brothers and Wachovia and A.I.G., are aghast at the thought of putting tax money into GM because, the thing is, they relate to the A.I.G. executives as peers but the punch press operators on the Impala assembly line are disposable.

And this is the shame. People like me can acknowledge the importance of the bankers even though we have absolutely nothing in common. I don't like it but I understand that for the sake of the country as a whole, we have to save them. It's too bad, the opposite isn't true.