Variations on one particular theme have been resounding for months now, and the one thing they have in common is, well, they don't vary all that much. I'll just quote you a single example, from Mark Binelli in Rolling Stone #1073, 5 March 2009:

Standing on this rooftop, in this city, as the worst financial crisis in living memory shows no signs of abating, it's easy to start thinking melodramatic thoughts. You want to believe everything will turn out OK. But the Big Three clearly had no concept of what they were up against until it was too late. And now, after years of having our trust abused with shoddy cars and patently deranged business models, we're being asked to take a huge leap of faith and believe in their ability to learn from their mistakes, to turn everything around. On an infinitely vaster scale, of course, the United States government is doing the same thing: begging the rest of the world to trust us, to continue to buy our Treasury bonds and fund our bailouts and stimulus packages because we're too big to fail. And we're hoping the world won't ask us the most pointed question Congress asked the carmakers: Why don't you try selling something people want to buy?

Said carmakers, hat in hand, weren't in any position to give them an honest answer. Which leaves the job up to me. Any of these, in any combination, should do the trick.

"Something people want to buy? WTF are you talking about? In case you hadn't noticed, this is a frigging recession. What people want to buy, right this minute, first and foremost, is a roof over their heads and food for their children. Motor vehicles come later. The question of 'product mix' is completely and utterly meaningless. Not that we'd expect anything better from the likes of Congress, whose most important goal is to get re-elected, and who have succeeded so well at that particular task that they're now totally removed from actual reality."

"Something people want to buy? For something like 198 of the last 200 months, the single most popular vehicle in this country has been the Ford F-150 pickup truck. In the fourth quarter of last year, when no one was buying cars, Ford sold six percent more F-150s than they did in the fourth quarter of 2007. And no, it didn't hurt one bit that the price of gasoline dropped during that period; having to spend less for fuel is a far better stimulus than anything this Congress could possibly have come up with on their own."

"Something people want to buy? Why are you not yelling at Toyota? Their sales tanked last year, just like Detroit's. Oh, but Ford deserved to tank because they sell four SUVs and three lines of pickup trucks? Toyota sells two lines of pickup trucks and six SUVs. Not counting Lexus versions. Remove the Prius from thine eye, brother."

You might conclude from this that I'm in favor of bailing out Detroit. Not so. Far as I'm concerned, they can bring in the Slovakians to run the American auto industry. And making GM and Chrysler effective wards of the state — Ford hasn't yet asked for funding — will guarantee their subsequent failure, simply because that's what government does best. (Two words: British Leyland.) The single most important thing goverment can do for any business sector, not just the automotive sector, is to Get The Hell Out Of The Way. Which is precisely what it's least capable of doing.

The Vent

#618
  23 February
2009

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