It's not funny because it's true

>> Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So this showed up on Boing Boing today:

This is really messed up.

Um. That, uh, that kind of hurts.

I'm conflicted about bailing out the auto industry. See, on the one hand, I know how freaked out I was by the banking industry's situation, and when the bad shit was on my own doorstep it wasn't too hard to win me over to the idea of it needing to be cleaned up. I hate the idea of thousands of people being laid off within the auto industry in part because I know how I felt about thousands being laid off in banking.

On the other hand... on the other hand is everything. That damn gag-poster from Boing Boing sums it up pretty fucking well.

These people--the auto industry, I mean--have been walking past the writing on the wall every day for decades. People have been saying, and for years, that maybe the Big Three ought to be a little more diversified, that if there was ever a fiscal crisis that collapsed the easy credit available to Americans or if there was ever any kind of energy crunch that caused the artificially-low price of fuel in America to spike, that maybe it would be hard to sell all those fucking SUVs the Big Three had convinced everybody they needed back in the '90s.

No doubt anybody who asked what would happen if the fuel spike and credit crunch just happened to coincide was told to get real.

And of course this is entirely separate from all the people who suggested that maybe building more fuel-efficient, greener vehicles was just a good idea on principle. I mean, the Big Three were told that, too, sure, but who listens to us liberals? We're all crazy hippie-people who smoke LSD and snort weed or whatever while listening to Enya and putting extra "y"s in all the old pronouns that the racist patriarchs forced down our collective throats, right? We're a bunch of crazy, killjoy elitists who don't understand why every American living in a heavily-urbanized metropolitan area needs a pickup truck. (For transporting Christmas trees, duh. If we weren't a bunch of atheists and Jews we'd probably get that on the second guess.) We liberal green tree-huggy people are just a part of a massive conspiracy to force everybody to ride a bus for no good reason.

But no, seriously again: even if you ignored the lunatic environmentalists, there were people pointing out the Big Three were running their businesses like morons on purely capitalist grounds. But no, the Big Three had to have those maxed-out profit margins and dividends.

In my mind, all Germans look like this. Even the women. I'm so sorry.Earlier this year, as regular readers know, I bought a VW New Beetle convertible. I didn't buy it because I just looooove Germans. I probably should love Germans--the VanNewkirk name comes from a German family, I'm told--but the honest truth is that it's hard for me not to hear "Germany" without instantly thinking of a man with a huge moustache wearing a helmet with a spike sticking out through the top. Colonel Klink was German, you know. I bought the VW Beetle because it's made out of awesome: it's a perky little car that gets decent gas mileage and is a convertible and looks cool and is mechanically reliable and has all sorts of engineering cleverness stuck into the curve (that's not a typo). Would I have bought an American car as cool as the VW at a reasonable price? Quite probably. There's something about the VW mystique, perhaps inculcated by all those Love Bug movies around the time I was a kid, but I also looked at the Mini Cooper, which is (of course) English.

When an American automaker sells a little car with character, they always seem to do it as a kind of half-assed joke that's really made in Korea anyway. (And that said, the Festiva I used to own was a surprisingly tough little car that put up with a helluva lot of abuse. I think I changed the oil in it once.)

Anyway, these fuckers in the auto industry should have seen it coming, have seen it coming, and now they're likely to get billions of dollars and what are the odds they'll actually turn around and build a reasonable vehicle or get their heads out of their asses? If the banking bailout had proceeded according to plan I might be more sanguine about another bailout--instead of Treasury getting the money and basically going, "Oh yeah, that thing we talked about? With your billions of dollars? Yeah, well nevermind, we're doing something different."

I already dread somebody chiming in on the comments thread about the role the unions played. Because, you know, it's all their fault: the union bosses went out the morning of the big negotiation and bought a black lab puppy and gave it to a hulking retarded man named Benny and brought them both to the meeting and told the heads of the auto companies that if the CEOs didn't agree to give in to the unions' demands to build nothing but shitty gas guzzlers nobody could afford without zero-down financing, then the union heads would trick Benny into strangling his new puppy that he'd already named "Little Benny" and about which he'd asked about nineteen times if Little Benny could really sleep with Big Benny even if it wasn't raining; and of course the automaker CEOs all looked over at the Bennies playing a wrestling game with a stuffed sock and panicked and gave the unions the right to make crap cars during the three days a week they actually had to work and so on.

Please, no. This isn't about the unions; or if it was, the automakers might have moved all the factories down here to North Carolina and other right-to-work states or accepted smaller profits or simply told the unions to fuck off, guess the assembly lines will be closed then and you guys will be hungry and in default on your mortgages soon enough. What caused this mess isn't the unions, what caused this mess is the auto industry not having the mental wherewithal to contemplate the possibility of their imminent demise if the fucking bubble popped. Which it did.

Yeah. But I guess they'll get the last laugh, the fuckwits. Because it turns out that the consequences of cratering an industry through a lousy business model and lack of foresight is that everybody else will end up buying American.

Like it or not.


Nathan Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 11:36:00 PM EST  

I could actually live with the bailout if:

A.) I didn't think they'd be back for more in April without having changed a damned thing,


B.) Some specific plan of how we, the new shareholders were going to get a dividend when the LOANS are paid back to the govt.

Random Michelle K Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 7:29:00 AM EST  

Easy Nathan. $100 off your next Ford Escort.

Ilya Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 9:34:00 AM EST  

I'm with you, Eric, and I can't argue against the auto industry bailout for similar reasons that prompted to argue for the banking bailout. Even if auto industry does not enable all of the other industries work (as banking does), it is so interconnected with so many other industrial sectors and employs so many people that letting it fail would probably cause a catastrophe on a bigger scale than anything we experienced thus far.

But it does not make it any less hard to swallow, for reasons that you correctly state. And since Hank Paulson already abused my trust a bit with the bailout money, I'm much less inclined to cheer for a "decisive" government action...

Shawn Powers Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 9:40:00 AM EST  

As a person (Michigander) whose government is funded largely by the big 3, I have some vested interest in the bailout.

That said, I agree with most of what you said. I don't think it's the union's fault -- but rather I see union as one more thing the big 3 did to screw up. It's no secret that I despise unions with the red hot fire of a thousand suns, but I don't blame the UAW for the money issues. I blame the big 3 for allowing the union to screw them over (along with all the other issues you mention) for so long.

It looks like the bailout is happening, and my very skeptical hope is that the big 3 do something a bit smarter than they have in the past. Again, skepticism. I has it.

John the Scientist Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 5:15:00 PM EST  

Uh, Eric, you underestimate by a large margin how much it would cost to move that infrastructure to North Carolina. And moving any more jobs overseas would jeopardize their "Made in America, gimme" scams.

Why is Pelosi so quick to jump on this? The woman has a gnat's understanding of economics. She's on this because this time the Unions are in line with management, and she wants their votes.

The Unions do play some blame in this. They're not the reason the Big 3 make crap, but they are the reason they make over-priced crap. They also play the role of political shield in times like this.

I'm in favor of letting one of these firms fail. Pick one. Letting all three fail will do much harm, as Ilya said. But the evolutionary hand of the market has got to smack someone here. If they keep it up they'll all still fail in the long run. Let's spread the fail over some decades, but let it start here.

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