Ronald Reagan and Lee Iacocca, Detroit, 1980

Ronald Reagan and Lee Iacocca, Detroit, 1980

The clamor is coming from all sides: extend the bailout to the car companies.

The rationale for doing so is that it is responsible fiscal policy: only by saving automobile manufacturing jobs will we be able to save Michigan. And as Michigan goes, so goes the country.

The holes in this argument are big enough to drive a Hummer through.

In the first place, whatever happened to the jobless recovery of 2003? I thought all the manufacturing jobs were already gone?

In the second place, as I have argued before, bailing out failing industry is a mistake. A firm line must be drawn between what is public capital and what is private capital. We have worshipped in the temple of private capital for two and a half centuries, while the idea of public capital has never been adequately articulated. The agopee of “privitization”, that is making what was public capital private, came with Reagan.

Reagan privitizing a Michigan State Fair T-shirt

Reagan privitizing a Michigan State Fair T-shirt

The end of that privitization happened when Henry Paulson was handed the keys to the Treasury and used them to write checks to his former pals in the financial industry. “Don’t worry boys — you’ll get your Christmas bonus this year!” The same is about to happen to the Big Three if they get their “bailout”: Executives will get to save their houses, while the workers’ jobs are eliminated and shipped overseas, and their retirement is left to a non-existing public dole. GM will not be able to build giant inefficient machines in the future. The market will not allow it. To prop them up will not save jobs for workers, it will only hold open the fire escape doors long enough for the rich to get out while their house is burning down.

Real fiscal stimulus has to do what the New Deal did: guarantee the future of the Re – Public by funding public capital.

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