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political parapraxis / detroit bailout

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When the political actors wrap the potential bailout of the American car companies in language of environmentalism, they aren’t being serious, they’re being cynical. There are reasons – some decent, some horrible – why those that want to save these dying corporations, but first on no one’s list is the prospect of forcing to market low-emissions vehicles and the like. It is a marketing strategy, and one that play on a very strange sense that is perhaps semi-subliminally resident in the minds of some voters and many commentators: If the nation controlled General Motors, General Motors could be forced to design and distribute vehicles that would be at once socially beneficial, attractive to consumers, and sustainably profitable. From the NYT today:

“They’re going to have to restructure,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “And all their stakeholders are going to have restructure. Labor, management, shareholders, creditors — everybody is going to recognize that they have — they do not have a sustainable business model right now, and if they expect taxpayers to help in that adjustment process, then they can’t keep on putting off the kinds of changes that they, frankly, should have made 20 or 30 years ago.”

Even the deployment of the slightly – though not much – more realistic sense that the goal of government intervention is going to return these companies to profitability seems to me fairly cynical and not at all realistic. Jobs and shareholders, not necessarily in that order, are being protected, full stop. The rest is windowdressing.

That said…. Each and every time they dress the windows with this sort of talk, every time the government players offer the argument that General Motors or Chrysler would have been better managed by responsible, sane, and forward-thinking bureaucrats rather than their board and corporate management, they turn the wheel of discursive normativity a click toward state management and the economics of planning. The Environmental Protection Agency together with the Department of Transportation could better manage a car company than the invisible hand of the market and the men it selects for ownership? Talk like this, however cynically deployed, was absolutely unimaginable a few months ago. Of course the chatterers on television and the papers will forget all about these arguments when (if!) things improve. But the voters, an ever larger percentage of whom are about to become unemployed, perhaps won’t if they are startled into attention by the shock of what’s coming in the next few months and years.

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 8, 2008 at 11:29 am

3 Responses

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  1. The solution here is rather simple, and therefore unthinkable. The problem is neither the high (and deserved) wages of the workers, nor exactly the bumbling missteps of management. It’s the impossibility of profit in a manufacturing line that can always be produced cheaper elsewhere. If we want those jobs, and we want cars produced here, there’s only one answer: make the bailout a loan to the workers so that they can buy the companies from the shareholders. They can use whatever (small) profits they make to pay it back and research the design of cheaper, more fuel-efficient cars. How many environmentally-conscious engineers do you think would sign on for to be a part of that project? Quite a few, I’m guessing.


    December 8, 2008 at 3:32 pm

  2. […] Jane Dark: Over at the sud­denly and excel­lently renascent Ads With­out Prod­ucts, the sud­denly and excel­lently erst­while CR has been making a vital record of the guilty […]

    Two Views: On Nationalization

    December 11, 2008 at 5:51 am

  3. I will respond to Jane’s response (in the trackback) the very second I have a second to do anything other than mark papers! It’s coming soon – term ends today!

    I like Jasper’s idea.


    December 12, 2008 at 11:37 am

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