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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

Dancing Car Companies

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Over the years, the Big Three automobile companies have given us plenty of reasons to hate them, especially after we bought their cars. We came up with little slogans to celebrate the quality of their products, like “FORD: Fix Or Repair Daily.” We watched in disbelief as those companies continued to build enormous, gas-guzzling dinosaurs while oil prices soared.

Foreign car companies steadily increased their market share by employing such unfair tactics as building quality cars and improving fuel economy. Domestic car companies had more important priorities than building the best cars. They diverted millions of dollars that could have gone into design and technology to lobby Congress to block legislation requiring American car companies to build better cars with better gas mileage.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the CEOs of all three major car companies flew to Washington in their separate multimillion-dollar corporate jets to ask Congress for a loan of billions of dollars to keep them in business.

It was hard to know which was more insulting: those CEOs flying in the first time on their private jets or returning last week in car pools to magnanimously offer to work for $1 a year. Any executive in America who can work for $1 a year already has way too much money.

Time to Save Jobs

All that being said, the worst thing we can do right now is allow anger over the obvious mismanagement of the car companies to prevent us from doing whatever we can to save the jobs of 3 million American workers. That is especially true at a time when we are on the brink of one of the worst economic disasters in American history.

We have officially been in a recession for a year. We’ve already lost 2 million jobs since last December. If you subtract another 3 million jobs connected to the automobile industry, we could be in such a deep, dark hole we might never get out.

President-Elect Barack Obama already is planning the largest public works project in our nation’s history to create 2.5 million jobs over two years.

After watching Congress revel in reading the riot act to those groveling, millionaire CEOs, we can only hope the politicians don’t get carried away with their own rhetoric.

By all means, insult those arrogant, overpaid incompetents to your heart’s content. But, at the end of the day, don’t allow the jobs and the futures of millions of bluecollar workers to disappear because their bosses are first-class jerks.

Many workers in the automobile industry have noticed the obvious class bias on display in the recent congressional economic action.

Within weeks of Wall Street investment bankers and financial hot shots recklessly destroying their own industry, Congress passed a $700 billion bailout the treasury secretary still can’t figure out how to spend effectively.

Yet, when the car companies came in looking for loans of far less—$34 billion—to save the jobs of working-class people, politicians took turns making pompous speeches about how the economic troubles of car companies are of their own making.

Leading the way, of course, were those free-market conservatives who argue that the failure of the entire American automobile industry is exactly the way unregulated capitalism is supposed to work.

When companies make bad decisions, they lose money and go out of business. Then better-run companies rise up to replace the failed companies and eventually become even more successful.

It’s a neat, simple-minded theory you would be an idiot to follow right out the window of a corporate skyscraper.

When you allow 100-year-old car companies employing millions of people to fail, you have the little problem of massive economic disruption and all those people struggling to survive while start-up companies grow through their own successes and failures.

In fact, the economic failure all around us is a direct result of the excesses of the unregulated free market bringing about its own self-destruction.

That’s why the failure of the banking industry, the auto industry and other economic engines contributing to the current disaster also represents a tremendous opportunity.

The banking and credit meltdown is an opportunity to re-regulate the financial industry and create reforms to protect consumers and homeowners.

The crisis facing the automobile industry gives us a rare chance to demand that the car companies create more fuel-efficient cars and speed the development of alternative energy to break the stranglehold oil companies have on our lives.

It’s our money they want. Turning them down would waste an opportunity and hurt far too many innocent people. Instead, let’s make them dance.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com


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