The $25 billion bailout (or bridge loan) has been a hot topic lately, both here and on the blogs I read. On a gut level, I am against it, and while impassioned and very sensible arguments for propping up the beleaguered auto industry have been made on all sides--especially by those with family ties to Detroit and the auto industry--I respectfully take it all in and am left with nothing but questions.
I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, and I think my opposition may be generational and cultural. I want to make clear that my heart goes out to every person, all 2-3 million, who are and might be affected if the auto industry collapses and I know the effects will be far-reaching beyond that. I am not being callous or cynical in the least, and I hope this post is not taken that way. This is an issue that has been weighing on my mind. I am certain I am not alone and would appreciate this post being read in the spirit of self-examination and reflection with which it is intended. It's because I care that I'm trying to figure out why it's so hard for me to support a $25 billion loan.
Like many Americans, my husband and I have discussed this issue daily for weeks, and we are in complete agreement on the matter because of the possibility that perhaps we are a generation away from feeling a connection to the "Made in the USA/American cars are the best" phenomenon. Having been raised on the west coast, we have no immediate connection to the Detroit automotive industry. Even though for years we had a Toyota factory in our back yard, we don't have union workers in our families (though I belonged to a teacher's union for three years).
It may also be cultural. Growing up my parents drove a mix of automobiles, but they were mostly European made because "they're made better." Parents say these things. Also, in my case, because my father is Italian and my mother is Korean-American and was raised in Hawaii, I've grown up with a global view. I've said before, I always felt like a citizen of the world first, American second. We make great things in this country, and great things are made in lots of other countries, too. I was never taught to believe that everything we manufactured here was the best in the world, I was taught to appreciate what the entire world had to offer. And if you know anything about Korean or Italian culture then you know that each of those countries makes the best cars in the world, at least according to my parents.
I don't say any of this to excuse my opposition to the bailout, I say it because I think that this might be why a generation of Americans (many of whom are like me--removed from the realities Detroit and Americans raised with a global perspective) finds it hard to swallow.
Last Thursday, I started my day on a bit of a twitter tear responding to MOMocrat contributing editor Queen of Spain/Erin Kotecki Vest's tweet that if we let the auto industry fail, we will be a nation that "manufactures nothing."
And so I responded:
@QueenofSpain nation that produces nothing? in what sense
This puzzles me. We are a nation that produces plenty. From where I sit in California, we are a nation that produces lots from food to films, from silicon chips to potato chips.
This exchange then led to a series of other stream of conscious tweets:
@QueenofSpain what about the people that lost jobs pensions houses etc. because other industries failed?
@QueenofSpain it is emotional issue, we all feel for those affected. what about people i know at yahoo who will lose jobs b/c of bad biz?
@QueenofSpain it still affects workers+their community in same way, but smaller scale means it's not worthy of concern and attention?
this is industry that fought against mass transit in LA, fought against fuel efficiency, had no problem outsourcing jobs to other countries
us autoworkers paid $71/hr vs. $47 at Toyota per newsweek. not arguing they dont deserve pay, but they make more than teachers. wrong.
why are these CEOs still in their jobs? what have their boards been doing? i am no economist, just concerned citizen.
i just hope that if silicon valley ever collapses people will view us thru same lens. somehow i doubt that will happen.
in silicon valley we are quick to blame exec team for company failures.
@jerseymomma i guess i'm just pissed that uaw makes $150k/yr when teachers make $100k less. we are truly a nation in trouble.
whew! now I'm awake. better than coffee. ready to face wallie's swimming lessons now.
I don't deny that there is 100-year's-worth of history at stake. I don't discount it at all. As an art history major, perhaps I look at history through a different lens--a lens where a thing created is not static, but constantly in flux as it influences and inspires others to create their own realities. It's hard to drill down to see the American perspective when I am used to looking at things with a global perspective. The "making something of worth in this country is important" argument is lost me for another reason besides the generational/cultural argument I made above: as I stated in my tweet, the auto industry had no problem outsourcing manufacturing of their cars and trucks to other countries as has been doing it for years. Where is their concern for American workers?
As someone immersed in Silicon Valley culture--one of the most technologically innovative communities on earth--companies start and fail here almost daily, and when they do, blame is placed firmly on those who deserve it: on the executives. They are fired or removed from their positions. Just look at Jerry Yang. Look at Carly Fiorina. Did HP "fail" as badly as the Big Three while she was at the helm? I'd venture to say not even close, but nevertheless she was gone. Why are the Big Three CEOs still in their jobs?
My parents also own a company which manufactures equipment right here in the US of A (and they are super-proud of that fact). They have a factory assembly line full of employees soldering and screwing...They've could have transferred their operations over to China but have have worked hard to keep making their products here, and made lots of personal and financial sacrifices to keep it that way (including moving from one state to another). I look to them as example of how to run a company right. They have never had a layoff even in down economic times. I saw them struggle to meet their employees needs when gas was over $4/gallon. Should they adopt a 4 day work week, a carpool program, give out gas supplements? They heard their employees and responded quickly. They have never asked for bailout even when my parents were working seven days week and pouring all their money back into making their company successful. They are my example so I have to think there is a way to do it right. Somewhere in there is a healthy mix of sensible management plus the ability to really listening to employees to find out their needs because you genuinely care.
In Detroit's case, the unions are going to have to make some concessions for me to be able to support anything near a bailout or bridge loan, and so far they have been unwilling to do that. I think I may be the only progressive who has a problem with unions, or maybe it's just this union. What is the UAW willing to sacrifice?
It is very hard for me, as a citizen of this country, to listen to CEOs ask for money who flew private jets to Washington DC. I understand that Fortune 100 CEOs need corporate jets, but don't use them to fly to DC to ask for money. Forgive me, that looks bad. Their employees are sacrificing. Where is their sacrifice? I want to know what was being done in the interim to take care of employees. I want to know what was being done to care for workers all along? How easy was it to maintain their insurance coverage when they got laid off? Were they able to get retrained if they lost jobs? Did they receive help in finding new jobs? How did they plan for innovation? Why weren't their hybrids brought to market sooner? I also think the Big Three are going to have to clear out their bloated matrix middle manager system.
It's because I care that I have so many questions. I think as citizens, we deserve some answers before the first dollar bill is peeled off the stack. I have stated previously, I very much resent the notion that those of us who are liberal (proudly in my case) and/or who live outside Detroit lack compassion for the auto industry workers and/or are being shortsighted about the future of manufacturing in this country. I really feel for the people affected, but I also feel that this country has proud history of making lots of things, still does, and I have to believe we still will.
--stefania pomponi butler