Saturday, December 13, 2008

Detroit Is Dead, Long Live Detroit!

Having had the misfortune of dealing with the United Auto Workers, I feel it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of hacks to be blamed for the auto bailout that wasn't. Aiding the merriment were the Republicans handing pretty decent political cover to Democratic leaders Nancy "Can't Count Votes" Pelosi and Harry "Spineless" Reid.

The next president can pretty much write his ticket in the face of this bunch of losers. And, yes, Motor City has pretty much had it now -- except that bankruptcy in 2008 is a far cry from bankruptcy in 1929. The Big Three, or Big Two, or maybe just Ford, will still be making those made-to-fall-apart pollutemobiles no one wants to buy for years to come.

Let's face it. If Brooke Shields were doing a commercial campaign for U.S. automakers her script couldn't credibly have women dying to get American engineering.

The quality of American cars has never been all that great. They've been big. They've been mass-produced. They've been marketed and mythologized.

Sure, up to 1970, somewhat more than two-thirds of all cars worldwide were American. But that was because the Europeans had committed continental suicide by the hundreds of millions in two, count 'em, world wars.

Remember those blue-gray Citro├źn 2CVs of the late 1940s, the "umbrella on four wheels," that were France's anticipation of big-wheel tricycles? And, of course, everyone remembers the postwar VW bug! And what about the East German sputtering Trabant, an engineering miracle in a country in which even machinery bolted down was taken home to Uncle Joe Stalin?

All of those European cars were ridiculously simple, toy vehicles that lasted and lasted and lasted well after the Berlin Wall fell.

And Japan, we'd dropped the bomb on them -- no wonder they were making those tinny scooters in the 1960s. Today Honda is laughing all the way to the bank.

Yet talk about historic irony! What undid the U.S. auto industry was the same military-industrial complex that gave it a near monopoly after World War II.

This came home to me reading Robert Reich's Supercapitalism. The economist relates, almost as an aside, how the curious confluence of shipping related to the Vietnam War created a natural pathway for the entry of Japanese cars into the U.S. market in the 1960s and 70s.

The Vietnam War came back to bite the USA.

Now the auto union that created Michigan's much vaunted "little Sweden" of high pay, good benefits and pensions, by refusing a wage concession, has probably helped create a job hemorrhage. Not that they should have conceded.

I certainly would have asked that management take pay cuts first. Pay cuts? Pink slips! They're the culprits, after all.

But the UAW deserves a little blame, too. This is the union that, if you find out their press office's phone number demands to know who told you. They shoot themselves in the foot every chance they get.

So do the Repubs, and Pelosi and Reid and the whole crew. It's Christmas. How else would you get so many blowhards felled in one big stroke?
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