Bailouts: More short-term solutions from the shortsighted
POSTED ON 9/17/2008 | PERMALINK |
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David Leonhard explains why bailouts are a bad idea:
In 1979, when it was still the 10th largest company in the country, Chrysler found itself on the verge of collapse, largely because high oil prices had made its gas guzzlers unappealing. Company executives and union leaders came to Washington, hat in hand, arguing that Chrysler’s demise would wreak unacceptable damage on the American economy. Congress and the Carter administration responded by arranging for $1.2 billion in subsidized loans. The Reagan administration helped further in 1981 by restricting Japanese imports.And perhaps we should consider some oversight, so we're not faced with these problems to begin with.
But if you take a moment to think through the full Chrysler story, you start to realize that it’s setting a really low bar. The Chrysler bailout may have saved the company, but it did nothing, after all, to stop Detroit’s long, sad decline.
If Chrysler had collapsed, he argues, vulture investors might have swooped in and reconstituted the company as a smaller automaker less tied to the failed strategies of Detroit’s Big Three and their unions. “If Chrysler goes belly up,” he says, “it also might have forced some deep introspection at Ford and G.M. and might have changed their attitude toward fuel efficiency and manufacturing quality.” Some of the bailout’s opponents — from free-market conservatives to Senator Gary Hart, then a rising Democrat — were making similar arguments three decades ago.
Instead, the bailout and import quotas fooled the automakers into thinking they could keep doing business as usual. In 1980, Detroit sold about 80 percent of all new vehicles in this country, according to Autodata. Today, it sells just 45 percent.
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