Tuesday, June 2

Envisioning the next GM

If you're an American, you're now the proud owner of a car company - at least 60% of one. The official line from both General Motors and the Obama administration is that the federal government will not use its shareholder stake to influence corporate decisions. The government will just let the "new and lean" GM do their thing. Hands off. Everyone recognizes that this is not going to happen, but it's interesting to see how both sides of the aisle are laying out their predictions. Here are two public figures about as far apart as possible, on any scale you would measure with.

David Brooks is not very optimistic about the new arrangement:

"The end result is that G.M. will not become more like successful car companies. It will become less like them. The federal merger will not accelerate the company’s viability. It will impede it. We’ve seen this before, albeit in different context: An overconfident government throws itself into a dysfunctional culture it doesn’t really understand. The result is quagmire. The costs escalate. There is no exit strategy."
Michael Moore, who has a tangled history with GM all the way back to "Roger and Me," is much more optimistic:
"Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices ... The things we call "cars" may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet."
Given Brooks' belief that the Obama administration is already in too deep, and cannot possible handle the political fallout from dismantling a major corporation, what is the pragmatic way to proceed? Ought they grab the bull by the horns, as Moore suggests, and spearhead the transition of industrial infrastructure toward more sustainable ends building public transit? Or should they keep pumping more funds into GM so they can continue to produce cars, hoping that one day the company will get back on their feet and make responsible decisions for themselves?

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