Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

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Home · Articles · News · Features · The auto industry‘s last...
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The auto industry‘s last stand

George Foster - November 24th, 2008
Let me get this straight.
President Bush and some legislators don’t want to loan the failing U.S. auto industry $25 billion to help it back on its feet? Not so long ago, the president was one of the first to plead with Americans taxpayers to fork over $700 billion to the banking industry with little accountability required by these Wall Street executives.
The administration is also quick to question the patriotism of any American who balks at his plans for funding the Iraq occupation. Conservative estimates ring up that conflict at $12 billion PER MONTH, $16 billion if you add in the Afghanistan War. Even though Americans were assured at the outset of the Baghdad invasion that Iraqi oil revenues would fund the war, U.S. taxpayers will pay (gulp) many trillions of dollars before our recent Middle East adventures are completed.
We are all suffering from bailout fatigue and I dispute the notion that we have an obligation to save failing companies and industries (we don’t). You have to admit, though, the auto industry may be the exception. No one is sure if the loan will solve the automakers’ problems, but it is worth a shot.
The $25 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to the way we’ve been burning money on bailouts. The proposed auto industry funding would be less than 4% of the money already set aside for Wall Street.
It must be disclosed that I am forever indebted to General Motors, where my father was employed for 44 years in Flint. Dad was always a blue-collar guy, but we never had to worry about how we would pay for our next meal or having a roof over our heads. Thanks to the UAW, G.M.’s fringe benefits plan has provided my parents with a comfortable retirement. G.M. also supplied me with several summer jobs, helping to fund my college education.
Yet, there is no room for sentimentality or partisanship in this crisis. Though General Motors has lost market share, it still sells more autos in this country than any other manufacturer. Respected industry reviews indicate that G.M., Ford, and Chrysler (the so-called Big Three) are manufacturing many quality cars. For those who complain that the U.S. car companies have focused too much on SUV’s and trucks - dude, gas-guzzlers are exactly what you and I and many American consumers wanted to buy until recently.
If the U.S. auto industry doesn’t survive, job losses would climb into the millions as a result of the ripple effect of the Big Three collapsing. If that happens, well... the resulting anarchy would likely be beyond comprehension.
Instead, we should look at this moment as an opportunity. The reeling auto industry, energy crisis, struggling U.S. economy, and national security concerns are all converging as top priorities, needing immediate attention.
Instead of thwarting U.S. automakers, our government should take the initiative to work with the Big Three to accelerate our conversion to mass transit, electric cars, and alternative forms of energy. Loans to the U.S. auto companies should be accompanied by government contracts to help transition our nation’s transportation system toward greener fuel sources.
In return, unlike the result of the Wall Street bailout, there should be sacrifices required for everyone. First, unreasonable auto executive bonuses and benefits would be eliminated. Vastly increased gas-mileage requirements would also be imposed on auto companies.
Blue-collar workers and the UAW would need to sacrifice some benefits in order to keep car prices competitive with Japanese models. Most importantly, a significant gasoline tax, similar to what many other countries use, would be imposed on consumers to encourage more energy conservation and provide funding for the new infrastructure conversion.
The result of government’s cooperation with the U.S. auto industry has phenomenal possibilities. Becoming less energy dependent on rogue nations such as Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia for crude oil would improve American national security. Many thousands of new manufacturing jobs can be created and U.S. car companies will be saved in the process. Most importantly, Americans would be at the forefront of a monumental change in the world’s auto industry.
Though it is a calculated risk, we should support such a loan to automakers with strings attached. The upside is immeasurable.

 
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