Apr 052009

Rick Haglund writes a column that appears in the Business/Jobs section of the Sunday Kalamazoo Gazette. But it’s almost always a lot more about government than business.

His article in today’s print section is headlined: “Wagoner exit will force automakers to fix problems fast.” The online version is headlined: “Obama lays out capitalistic path for General Motors, Chrysler.”

Both headlines reflect the content of Haglund’s article. (This is not always the case in the Gazette). And both are wrong.

Those who believe President Barack Obama is a socialist are now convinced of it after he sacked General Motors Corp. Chairman Rick Wagoner and told Chrysler LLC to finish its deal with Fiat SpA in 30 days, or else.

Nonsense. What Obama did may have little precedent in U.S. corporate history. But someone needed to force GM and Chrysler to get real about fixing their problems–and fast.

Personally, I think it’s stupid to get hung up on the socialist label. But it’s simply not true that forcing GM and Chrysler to fix their problems fast says one thing or another about whether Obama is socialist.

And if Haglund really wanted the companies to fix their problems fast, he would have opposed Bush’s bailout back when Bush was president. At the time, opponents of the move were pointing out that the bailout would only delay the inevitable. Now the inevitable is making its agonizing approach, and people are justifying the Bush-Obama behavior by saying the companies need to act faster. The markets would already have forced fast behavior changes if only the Rick Haglunds of the world would have been willing to allow markets to work.

Back at the time of the first bailouts, the opponents were saying that there is always bankruptcy to deal with these things. Bush and the Democrats were opposed. So we got the bailouts and we got a new Putin-like precedent for takeover of corporations, and now Obama is threatening GM and Chrysler with bankruptcy to make them change faster. We already had that threat without the new and dangerous precedents, if only Bush-Obama had been willing to let it take the course they are now forcing on GM and Chrysler.

And to add error to injury, Haglund says Obama is acting like a capitalist.

But in pushing a gold, risky restructuring plan, Obama is acting more like a capitalist than the capitalists who would like the government to keep them in business for as long as it takes.

This of course is nonsense. The capitalist approach is what Bush and Obama have hindered. They were the ones trying to keep the businesses alive, and they said so at the time. It is simply not true that capitalists are the ones who insist that the government keep them in business. GM’s capitalists, perhaps, but not capitalists in general.

I presume the Gazette doesn’t have a fact-checking department, or this last paragraph of Haglund’s would never have been allowed to stand.

Apr 012009

It has been a couple hundred years since we last had a Renaissance man as president. But now we have someone who not only can run a successful election campaign, but whose uncanny eye for tax evaders to run his administration is not in the least diminished by his ability to simultaneously run a multinational manufacturing conglomerate and fill out his NCAA men’s basketball bracket.

It’s not all roses and sunshine, of course. There is a lot of whining about the way he’s taken over an automotive manufacturing company. But the chronic naysayers overlook the fact that this isn’t the first time a government has run a car company. Think of vehicles like the Lada Oka for the proletariat and the Volga GAZ for the nomenklatura. Those were not the products of free-market capitalism.

And despite their occasional defects those vehicles had a huge social benefit: No TV advertising. No Howie Long interrupting the NCAA basketball games to make fun of Ford’s “man-step” and of truck owners who wear dorky clothes.

True, when you see Howie Long doing his sales pitches, you now are watching your tax dollars at work. But certainly the same president who decided the bailout recipients should give back their bonuses is going to make sure that government-subsidized shills on TV should give back, too, won’t he? Why should that money go to celebrities and advertising executivies, when it could instead go straight into UAW wages and UAW campaign contributions? The same president who decided Rick Wagoner needed to step down will certainly be able to get Howie to shut up before the Final Four starts this weekend. Like I said, a huge social benefit.

Mar 302009

I see that President Obama has decided to impose regime change on General Motors. He is overthrowing the government of GM and is going to replace it, with, well, who knows?

I hope he is better at picking people to head a giant multinational corporation than he is at picking people to run the Treasury Department. Like maybe he’ll be able to find somebody who can at least do TurboTax.

Unless he proves to be very good at running an auto company, I presume this move will cool the ardor of people for a bailout of our health care system. (It’s the concept usually referred to as universal health care.) Our President seems to take the position that providing money means he gets to call the shots. Actually, most people who provide money in any context will take that position, but he’s considerably less subtle about it than most. Will he insist on regime change in unhealthy households. Will he pick replacement spouses where needed? Will he insist on picking the fetuses that are allowed to come off the production line?

I presume he’s not going to be a completely hands-on executive at GM, and that he will let others call the day-to-day shots except in cases where there is some political advantage to be had by intervening directly. But how is he going to decide who gets to make these day-to-day decisions. Aside from TurboTax skills, what will he look for in a job applicant? Is he likely to allow a critic of the administration to run the company? Will loyalty to the administration be a factor?

There are the same dangers as when the United States helped overthrow the governments of Vietnam, or Iran, or any other country. The guys he puts in place are then his responsibility. If he allows a tinhorn dictator to come to power, that person becomes Obama’s tinhorn dictator.

And what are the other auto companies going to do now that one of their main competitors is now the United States government? Where do they go to find a government that will ensure that they all play by the same rules, now that Obama administration has a vested interest in the success of its protege?

[Now posted at the Conservative community on LiveJournal, too.]