Friday, January 09, 2009

How Guilty Should I Feel?

"What is good for General Motors is good for America" - GM Chairman and CEO, Charlie Wilson, 1955

Reader, the maveness and I make the last payment on our car number one this month. As is our usual practice when this happens, we are retiring car number two, moving car number one into the number two position and buying a new car number one. So, we have been looking at cars for a few weeks and finally decided to buy a Toyota. This is not a surprise because our current car number one is also a Toyota. What I do find interesting, especially with the economic plight facing our domestic car manufacturers, is that we didn’t consider buying an American car for more than about three seconds. We just assume that GM, Ford and Chrysler do not make a car that is better than the Japanese.

This is not the way it used to be. Our first car, nearly forty years ago, was a Chevy Nova. We liked it fine. When our family started growing, we replaced the Nova with a big Impala wagon. (I sure loved that car). We really didn’t think about buying foreign cars. Aside from simply assuming that American was best, we also had to deal with the fact that my father-in-law would have disowned us if we had bought Japanese and my mother would have gone ballistic if we bought German.

Then, at some point and for some reason, we bought a Ford Taurus. Both I and the maveness hated that car. It turned us off to Ford totally. When the maveness went back to work and we needed a second car we chose a Nissan (or were they still called Datsun back then?) After that it was Toyota and Subaru and Toyota and now Toyota again.

But that was before. Shouldn’t now be different? Didn’t the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler fly into Washington to get their share of the mighty federal buck? Didn’t they promise us that if they didn’t get the money they would be floating belly up in the Detroit River in weeks? Don’t I owe it to all those Detroit executives to buy American so they can continue to live in the style to which they have become accustomed? Don’t I owe it to the members of the United Auto Workers who are really sweating their jobs? Don’t I owe it to the residents of the Detroit metro area who just went through the worst football season ever? If one or more of those “Big Three” goes under, the city could become a ghost town. So what if their cars aren’t as good as the Japanese; don’t I have some patriotic duty to buy them anyhow?

What is the appropriate atonement for the sin of buying Japanese? Should we be required to wear a big scarlet “J” on all our stuff? I mean, people will already know we have bought Japanese just by looking at those letters—T, O, Y, O, T, A—on the car. Should we get a bumper sticker that reads “We wanted to buy a Cadillac for $54,000 but the Devil made us get this cheap thing?”

I know, precious reader, that I should not be joking about these things. Our economy is tanking. Many thousands of Americans have lost their jobs. Many thousands more will probably lose theirs too. If GM or Ford or Chrysler go under, a whole lot more will become formally employed. That is tragic, not funny. But should I feel guilty that we did what we thought was in our best interest?

I know that many businesses in this country are badly hurt or even dying because of something they had no control over. But, I can’t help feeling that GM, Ford and Chrysler decision makers have a lot to do with how poorly their companies are doing. They’ve had decades to deal with the growing competition from Japan, Germany and, more recently, Korea. They have made many corporate decisions that might have helped them in the short run. Certainly, the executives have all been well compensated. But their short sightedness kept them from planning and developing the cars that would have kept them on top. While Toyota and Honda and Nissan and Kia and others were producing and selling cars that people wanted, GM and Ford and Chrysler were producing the vehicles they wanted to make and were spending tons on advertising to try to convince American drivers that these were the cars they should want.

There are certain corporations in this country that are so big and fill a niche that is so essential to our national economy that we are unwilling to allow them to be subject to the normal rules of a free market. So, in the last several months we have pumped billions of dollars of our money into these corporations to make sure they survive (even when their own stupid or greedy decisions caused their economic downfall). Although the sub-prime fiasco has caused many Americans to lose their homes, and a lot more, nobody thought they needed a bailout. “Losing your home? Tough, you never should have bought something you couldn’t afford.” But, did we ever say to any bank, “You guys screwed up now face the consequences.” No! They are too important.

The free market should be the one place in our society where “survival of the fittest” governs things. Instead, we have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars from our grandchildren to rescue corporations that are unfit to survive. It makes little sense to this maven. But what can we do? Saving unfit corporations has become a tradition in the US of A. How many years has it been since Tom Paxton penned these words?

I am changing my name to Chrysler
I am headed for that great receiving line
So when they hand a million grand out
I'll be standing with my hand out
Yes sir I'll get mine.

1 comment:

Chaiya said...

Definatly , the greed of the CEO's and top descision makers sure had a hand in this. Instead of making more practical cars to compete better with foreign competition , they wanted , Bigger , Larger and more chrome and weight. All the advertising in saying , oh yes , this is what american is , big and bloated and too much of everything.

Not everyone is looking for over inflated large over priced gas guzzlers now. And it is really really funny . GM wants to kill off Pontiac, the company it should have kept , for its small cars that would sell, also Pontiac should have kept with their original nameing and not the G this and that. Yet they want to keep making the 2 Chevrolet clones , the Escalade and Yukons , just an over stickered Tahoe and Suburban, one with more chrome and body clading and the other with excessive chrome and body cladding and a Cadillac logo.

A smart way to go would have been , kill off GMC , stop making Escalades and the Cadillac rebadged Avalanche . Another GM bad was abandoning the LaSabre and Park Avenue names in the US market , and also low engine technology, that 3.8 has been carried over too long , and those new 3.5, 3.6 and 3.9's arent really a far evolution from the 3.1 that debuted in 1994.

Chrysler , there are no words. You dont have to buy big to be American