Dim bulb idea: Feds driving auto industry

Ronald Reagan once quipped — not altogether in jest — that the nine most frightening words in the English language were, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” To these nine might be added 11 words spoken by President Barack Obama in his March 30 news conference announcing the terms under which the federal government would now be effectively running General Motors and Chrysler: “Starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty.”

Boy, if there were ever a reassuring statement, Obama’s from last week would be right on the money — a statement signifying that an organization which has run up debt faster and to greater levels than any government in peacetime, and which is utterly unable and unwilling to balance its books, would be standing behind the warranty on my Dodge Magnum.

Such a statement by a president of the United States might be considered comical, were it not for the gravely serious ramifications of what Obama is doing. The plan to insert the federal government into the board rooms and repair shops of two of America’s Big Three automakers, while not necessarily the final nail in the coffin holding what used to be the world’s greatest reservoir of entrepreneurship and individual freedom, is darn close to it.

While Obama can hardly be blamed for initiating the process that has dramatically undermined America’s position as the world’s most inventive and entrepreneurial nation, he appears committed to finishing the process that began in earnest in the 1970s. Simply consider for a moment where his most recent edicts leave these latest victim-beneficiaries of government largess. GM’s CEO was forced out not by shareholders or by the corporation’s board of directors, but by the president’s so-called “auto task force,” a multi-member group of current and former government officials, not one of whom is elected by the American people or by GM shareholders.

And poor Chrysler. This venerable company formerly headed by Lee Iacocca, and whose muscle cars once ruled America’s freeways and racetracks, has been placed in the unenviable position of negotiating with Italian carmaker Fiat under an Obama-imposed deadline of 30 days or face bankruptcy. In those negotiations, who would you rather be — Chrysler or Fiat?

The president and his crack team of automobile bureaucrats mean to tell America’s automakers how, when and in what quantities to produce the cars they want — the government, that is; not the consumer. Unfortunately, many Americans today are too young to recall the last time Washington decided to dabble directly in the automobile manufacturing business, beginning in the mid-1970s and continuing into the ’80s.

For those of us who lived through Detroit’s “lost years” (and Japan’s golden ones), who can forget the models rolling off America’s automobile assembly lines, dictated by government crash-test standards and mileage requirements, and laden with environmental paraphernalia so complicated only a computer or a rocket scientist could repair a malfunction. This era produced some of the ugliest, most underpowered and dangerous cars ever to roll off those assembly lines.

The current headlong rush by Washington to stifle entrepreneurship is not only forward-looking, it is historic as well. Consider the venerable incandescent light bulb — the universal caricature of a “good idea.” This remarkably simple and dependable device, patented in 1879 by America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, has lit countless homes, businesses and, yes, even government buildings during its 130-year life.

Yet, despite the fact that it continues to this day to perform precisely the task it was designed to carry out — providing instant illumination dependably, cheaply and without damage to the surrounding environment — the incandescent light bulb is being deliberately rendered extinct. Its replacement? The compact fluorescent bulb — a more expensive product, one that contains a toxic substance (mercury), and which performs demonstrably less well than the bulb it is replacing. Such “progress” we can do without.

In this new age of government-run businesses, in which bureaucrats tell us what cars we can have, what light bulbs we can use and which toilets we can flush, it is likely that Encyclopedia Britannica’s future editions of the world’s “great inventions” will not only be considerably shortened, but contain far fewer American entries.

25 comments Add your comment

Davo

April 8th, 2009
7:27 am

Your right that the US has no business propping up the car companies. Please, for your own sake, lay off the CFB’s…your starting to sound like a GOP techno-phobe. It’s past time we started thinking about saving energy in this country. If you wont do it for the envirement then do it for your own wallet.

Jimbo

April 8th, 2009
9:24 am

I haven’t seen any (anecdotal) evidence that CFLs are worse than incandescent bulbs. Ours have lasted many times longer than the bulbs they replace and use significantly less energy. I’m waiting for LED bulbs though, that will certainly be the future.

clyde

April 8th, 2009
9:31 am

People buying Chrysler vehicles need all the help they can get.

Road Scholar

April 8th, 2009
10:25 am

Bob, if the cars were worth a damn, we wouldn’t need warranty quarentees! As for the technology, why don’t you go back to washing your clothes by beating them on a rock?

“This era produced some of the ugliest, most underpowered and dangerous cars ever to roll off those assembly lines.” And whose fault is that? The American consumer? Oh wait, they are buying something else, if they are buying at all. Chrysler has already been bailed out, remember? How many times is enough? What should we do with their out of touch managemnt? Or is what’s left of your selective memory failing? Look at Consumer Reports latest list of the worst ten performing vehicles…most are American (Jeep has 3).

Maybe instead of putting design and performance standards on the cars,their boards should put performance and related salaries on their executives.

booger

April 8th, 2009
10:28 am

The manipulation of the auto industry has only begun. SUVs and pickups are once again the largest selling segment of the industry, while hybrids are sitting on the car lots. The acclaimed Prius which six months ago had a waiting list now is 80 days overstocked. Do you suppose that our auto companies will be able to build on the one segmeng of the industry where they have the edge?

Certainly not. Obama has alresdy answered that question. And what happens when people don’t buy these new government cars? The government has a whole bevy of taxing solutions which can modify the bad behavior of the auto market. they’ll start with raising gas tax to punishing levels. If that’s not enough, Roll out a carbon tax based on MPG. There is no end to tax solutions for any behavior this adim. doesn’t like.

Jimbo

April 8th, 2009
11:41 am

Oh? Government regulations didn’t affect car designs in the eighties?

The 1980 Corvette California begs to differ. But it should be noted that during the 80’s (well, 1979) is when Chrysler took their loan from the government, got their legs back under them (for a few years) and paid the loan back (by 1983).

So there is some truth to both claims, that government regulation (specifically by California, but we didn’t know how properly apply environmental technologies at the time) ruined some American designs, but also that there were some positive results from loaning US automakers money.

matt

April 8th, 2009
12:09 pm

If the manufacturers would focus on making about 6 noteworthy cars with minimal engineered obsolescence instead of 45 different halfway engineered and assembled ‘market research’ derived straw grasps they would probably be in far better shape. Bells and whistles do not disguise poor body panel alignment. The bailout money went to secure the interests of the UAW. Lobbying prowess should never be underestimated, they just exemplified this by openly robbing the American taxpayer. How the lobbying practice is allowed to continue blows my mind. ¼ of the US population would have been standing on the Whitehouse lawn with torches in 1910, but no one seems to care anymore as long as their stomach is full and their TV still works.

booger

April 8th, 2009
12:41 pm

Jimbo,

There is a difference between govt. regulations and takeover. GM and Chrysler are now effectively run by a govt. panel reporting one level from Obama. When you can fire the CEO or insist you allow a takeover by a foreign co. You’ve gone way past a few regulations.

Jimbo

April 8th, 2009
12:58 pm

Touche’ booger.

I didn’t say that what our government was doing is the right thing, I said loaning a company government money doesn’t have to be a bad idea.

Matt,

It wouldn’t have mattered in 1910 if they had shown up on the white house lawn with torches, look up the “bonus army.”

Jake

April 8th, 2009
1:26 pm

My sister has a Chrysler and the check engine light stays on. It came on 6 mos after she bought this Jeep piece of (**&^!!. Its been on for months. I told her not to buy that crap and buy a Honda, now she regrets it. Now the front bearing are bad, the car has 50K miles on it.

Thanks UAW…………

matt

April 8th, 2009
1:33 pm

Jimbo,

I specifically chose a date prior to 1913 for a reason. Horrible story about the Bonus Army though, I wonder why they never deemed that important enough to teach it to us in school. Just more negative impact from wars. The poor always die, the rich always seem to better themselves.

Jimbo

April 8th, 2009
2:02 pm

Matt,
There was a bonus army before that one. We shafted the continental army too!

Jefferson

April 8th, 2009
2:35 pm

GM now knows the feeling of being on the other side of the mahogany desk.

Copyleft

April 8th, 2009
2:50 pm

What is Mr. Barr’s counter-proposal? He, and many other commentators, keep skipping over the fact that GM’s “firing” was a condition for the company to receive public bailout money. GM didn’t HAVE to fire its CEO… but if they come whining to us for taxpayer-funded bailouts, why SHOULDN’T we impose conditions?

The days of writing blank checks to corporations, simply because their lobbyists are “good buddies,” should be over and done with.

matt

April 8th, 2009
2:57 pm

The days of writing blank checks to corporations should never have dawned…

booger

April 8th, 2009
6:03 pm

Copyleft,

If you don’t want to call it “firing” then we could call it “bribery” which is exactly what you have described.

Real problem is that now Obama has mastered running an auto company, He has given Geitner the authority to fire the Mgt. of any bank he feels may not be performing well. Nationalization under the guise of being helpful.

MOT

April 9th, 2009
12:40 am

Jake: My Honda’s check engine light came on a few months ago, I bought it used 18 months ago with 33,000 miles. I was fed up with the American cars, we had given each of the big three our hard earned money to give each a chance. They trained us well, so we have had Toyota and Honda ever since a few years ago, but alas, even they may not turn out to be all we hoped.

With that said, what the government is doing is wrong. We are headed down the wrong road and no one seems able or willing to get us back on the right one.

Copyleft

April 9th, 2009
8:09 am

If the executives at GM were so good at running the company without help, why did they beg for a bailout?

Seems to me they’re asking for a favor, on our dime. And we have the right to set conditions on whether or not we bail them out. If they don’t like it, they can fail on their own.

dgroy

April 9th, 2009
8:23 am

The problem is, we’re all sitting here behind our computers talking when we should be marching on Washington and refusing to leave and demanding positive reform. What we’re doing isn’t working…..we can’t spend our way out of this mess. This is all according to the plans spelled out in “The True Story Of The Bilderburg Group”. Bob, I know you’ve probably read it. This is our government’s way of getting us in line…..

Pedro

April 9th, 2009
9:28 am

DGROY, I think you’re the only blogger here with a brain. Thanks.

pat

April 9th, 2009
9:31 am

They should have never received a penny of government help in the first place. Just like any government intervention, it only prolongs the agony. If you concentrate on having your hand out, you cannot concentrate on doing your job or improving. Everyday examples are our banks and welfare recipients. Welfare recipients won’t get jobs because welfare pays better than most menial labor…But you have to start somewhere to get ahead. Banks quit lending money to anybody under a 900 credit score because they don’t need to give credit to get money from obama.
Government hand outs don’t fix anything, they only make things worse…You’d think after nearly 100 years of tried and failed socialist experiments, people would look at history and quit trying things that do not work…But oh no! Socialism will work this time! It never has and never will.
The bad news is this type of crap will continue for a while, the good news is it won’t last long, because the people will eventually run out of money to pay for failed government experiments.

Miro

April 9th, 2009
9:48 am

pat,
I guess you have not heard of the loan to Chrysler in 1979, and of the result.

pat

April 9th, 2009
11:21 am

Miro…yes I see the result, not good.

Miro

April 10th, 2009
10:22 am

pat…you must have missed the years after the 1979 loan. You cannot take the situation after 30 years as “the result.”

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