Corporate welfare for General Motors—or more generally, for the Detroit Dinosaurs—will cost us taxpayers and bond buyers tens (or hundreds) of billions, no matter what. Whether it's the corporate welfare money preferred by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, or the money it will take to keep the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation afloat in the wake of a GM bankruptcy, the price tag will be tens or hundreds of billions. GM's troubles started decades before this year's financial meltdown, but now it's too late to limit the cost of GM's life support (or mercy killing) to just the private sector.
• On each uniform will be sewn a patch above the left breast pocket, reading:
"Jurassic Park, MI: Proudly protected from competition since 1980; hungrily consuming at the public trough since 2009."
• All such employees, janitor to CEO, will be compensated according to the pay and benefit schedules of Government Service employees.
• A hypocrisy clause: any federal lawmaker who voted for federally-funded GM life support will face immediate expulsion from office for any future use of the pejorative term "corporate welfare."
Sen. Carl Levin justified his pro-corporate-welfare stance by pointing out (yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press) that "we've done it before," citing the Chrysler bailout in 1980 and the airline bailout in 2001-2. Good point, Sen. Levin; we should have implemented the park ranger uniform idea back then, but I suspect it would be illegal (ex post facto) to try to impose it on them now. On the bright side, however, there's probably still time to include employees of AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and several other financial companies in the ranger uniform program. Companies receiving agriculture subsidies should be on the list, too. (Feel free to remind me of any I may have forgotten.)
What we could do for the workers
The vested-interest folks like Levin keep mentioning the "one million jobs" connected to the auto industry—as if I'm supposed to think that the USA will lose that many jobs if we don't turn Detroit into a federally-funded Jurassic Park. Sorry, Sen. Levin, that scare tactic doesn't work as intended on me. Many of those valuable workers would not be willing to work for the government if we could help them through the transition to a new place of work, where their skills will not only be needed, but also utilized effectively.
Quick analysis: How many new cars will US consumers purchase in 2009, 2010, 2011, and on and on? Let's say it's "x million" cars. In other words, consumer demand will require the automaking industry to employ enough workers to make x million cars—even if Studebaker, Packard, DeLorean, and General Motors are not among the industry's employers.
Because much of our domestic automaking capacity is very competitive in the world market, especially when selling into the US auto market, most of those jobs could stay right here. One short term problem: many of the skilled, productive auto workers live in the Detroit, Michigan area, but most of the manufacturing facilities run by healthy, competitive companies are located south and west of Detroit. So, to ease the pain of transition, why not use federal funds to subsidize the cost of matching up workers with viable companies, and the cost of moving workers to their new job locations? It's true that Michigan, already losing population, would shrink even more (see below), but it would put government bailout money to better long-run use: helping productive workers get employed by viable, competitive, domestic companies—some of which would no doubt have to expand their production facilities in addition to hiring extra workers.
Which domestic companies am I talking about? Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention them: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, and others, mostly located in the sunbelt, south and west of Detroit. When consumer demand awards them with what is now GM's market share, they and their suppliers will need more employees to handle the extra volume. What our government should do with at least some of our tax dollars and bond proceeds is make it easier for motivated, skilled auto workers—those who'd rather not wear park-ranger uniforms—to move away from Jurassic Park, Michigan. To a "sunnier climate," if you know what I mean.
I'd rather subsidize thousands of moving vans one time than thousands of hungry dinosaurs forever.