David B.




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February 19, 2009

GM & Chrysler: Saving the Unsaveable


So, we want to save the auto industry, do we?


Evidently. As of the closing of this past Tuesday’s news cycle, Chrysler LLC – the hollowed husk of what once was the smallest of the “Big Three” – was preparing to stick its nose into the federal trough to the tune of an additional $5 billion in government dollars in one final Hail Mary attempt to stave off the inevitable.


Of course, when trillion-dollar economic rescue packages are being hurried into existence in a similarly desperate attempt to stop the entire American economy from choking to death on its own bile, a paltry $5 billion more or less doesn’t matter so much. The temptation is to respond to Chrysler’s entreaties with a grandiose and cavalier assent, and maybe toss in an extra buck or two so that it can buy itself an ice cream cone.


Why not? After all, at this point we’re spending imaginary money anyway, using the illusion of wealth to prop up the illusion of a thriving capitalist behemoth, all the while hoping that the rest of the planet doesn’t catch on to the shell game we’re trying to pull off. But all of us know the truth: There’s a big hollow nothingness at the core of American economic might, a vacuum where the country’s real wealth – mineral, manufacturing, agricultural – used to be. We’re faking, and the rest of the world figures it’s in their own best interest to let us get away with it.


Part of that faking involves pretending that there’s a future not only for the American manufacturing sector, but for that most wasteful and destructive of objects that it produces: The big, dumb American automobile.


It’s a sickness, I suppose: Like all addictions, Americans’ compulsive worship for and purchase of the smog-belching, gas-wasting plastic and glass piles of crap in which they spend 10 percent of their lives either in gridlock or swearing up a storm at the jerk that just cut them off seems so ingrained as to be unshakeable. Yes, we say: We are perfectly happy whilst in the midst of bumper-to-bumper commutes between our cookie-cutter suburban idylls and our cubicles, and more than content to shell out thousands of dollars in insurance and lease payments annually for the privilege. We also enjoy eating ground glass and beating ourselves about the head with claw hammers. Why do you ask?


Well, maybe there is – as the Ford advertising slogan used to proclaim – a better idea. Just maybe we could use that $5 billion, not to mention the various other keep-up-with-the-Joneses $5 billions that GM and Ford are sure to ultimately receive, for something a little bit smarter than subsidizing the production of the next Pinto or Corvair. Maybe we could reap the benefits of an auto bailout – jobs saved, vestigal manufacturing base preserved – by fine-tuning our giveaways a little.


Those with really long memories might recall that it was General Motors that was in large measure responsible for the decimation of urban mass transit in the United States during the middle of the last century. GM bought up trolley systems, streetcar systems, subways and interurban rail lines and unceremoniously closed them down, all in the name of creating additional demand for its miserable land-yacht automobiles.


Well, what GM (and Ford and Chrysler) taketh away, they can bring back. If the “auto companies” are so anxious to glom on to tens of billions of tax dollars, maybe they should be transformed into “transportation companies” instead. Forget about cars. Focus on light rail, bullet trains, buses and other forms of mass transportation that actually make economic and environmental sense. Want those billions? Build us subways and monorails, or go join AMC, DeLorean, Packard and Duryea on history’s rusting scrapheap where, by rights, you belong.


Think anyone in D.C.’s got the spine to propose such an initiative? Of course not. It makes sense. Instead, we’ll give Chrysler their $5 billion so that they can pretend not to be an anachronism for another five years or so, even as the Chinese, the Koreans and the Indians eat their lunch, flooding the global market with fuel-efficient, sub-$10,000 vehicles, while an increasingly urbanized global population turns in greater numbers toward foreign-made mass transit when moving to and fro. But we Americans, who always know better, will still have our auto industry, just as we have our coopers and our alchemists and our blacksmiths.


And when one of those stupid, bloated Dodge trucks nearly sideswipes us into a ditch during our next interminable morning commute, our chests can swell with pride in the knowledge that our $5 billion paid for it to exist.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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