Monday, December 1, 2008

We Shouldn't Bail Out the Big 3 Automakers

The government should not bail out the car companies. Their business model and their agreements with their workers unions have become non-competitive. A bailout will simply push bankruptcies into the future. And at that time the unfunded obligations will be bigger than today.

I have a deep affection for cars, and high on my list are American muscle cars. I also like vintage American cars, lowriders, and racing cars. I don't own any of these, but I love 'em. I love the sound and power of an American V8. I saw CanAm races at Riverside, and there I heard how engines really sound.

But none of the glorious past changes the sorry state of the industry today. The union agreements and the silly CAFE rules act as a scissors to cut profit out of the industry. The union agreements boost costs, so the big three built trucks and SUVs, which were most profitable. The CAFE rules forced unprofitable fleet allocations. The spike in gasoline prices revealed that the whole arrangement was untenable.

Studying economics in college, I asked whether an antitrust case could be brought against a union that represents workers for an entire industry, encompassing several companies. The answer is no, unions are exempt from antitrust cases, not matter what. I never bought that concept. It always seemed logical to me that a union might represent one of the big 3 automakers, for example, but different unions would have to represent workers in the others. That way, essentially the unions have to compete to make reasonable deals. A company could be taken down, but an industry would be less likely. I've read articles over the years after a new UAW contract is cut with one automaker, in which the dire warning is sounded for the prospects of the other two.

Naturally enough, the Democrats, with their union support, are for the bailout. If anything, their restraint and reasonableness is surprising. But bankruptcy is the best option if cash runs out. Contrary to fearful reports, a bankrupt automaker will not cease to exist. It will reorganize its obligations and carry on. And that is exactly what is needed.

A friend asked me about all the past workers' pensions and health coverage if one goes bankrupt. I said "Exactly." Instead of a person retiring at age 65 and and dying at 72 as in past years, a person may now retire at 55 and live until 82. How can a company be expected to carry that? If the real issue is people who no longer actually work at the Big 3, let's address that directly.

The UAW is now, suddenly, talking about renegotiating some parts of their agreements. It's too late. I say "No Deal." By the way, CAFE requirements should not exist. The fuel efficiency of cars and trucks is something the market should decide.

Please read my first post below. That's where I lay out the basic free-market vs. Socialism logic.