Tom Friedman is talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he says that America should have been like Denmark and loaded taxes on to gas to discourage cars, subsidize transit and build a greener infrastructure on the backs of those who drive their cars with gas at $10 per gallon.
On the other hand, he is against any bailout of Detroit. He shouts in the Times:
"We have to subsidize Detroit so that it will innovate? What business were you people in other than innovation?" If we give you another $25 billion, will you also do accounting?
Um, no Tom, they were in the business of giving people what they want. In an America with cheap gas, a real estate culture that encouraged homebuyers to "drive until you can afford it", and people spending more time in their cars than in their living rooms, who wouldn't want a little more space and a few cupholders (and now even fridges)?
Then Tom says "spare me the alligator tears about G.M.'s health care costs" and in the very next sentence talks about how "Honda of Canada Mfg. officially opened its newest investment in Canada — a state-of-the art $154 million engine plant. The new facility will produce 200,000 fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines annually for Civic production in response to growing North American demand for vehicles that provide excellent fuel economy."
Why do you think Honda is building that plant in Alliston, sixty miles north of the USA? Are Canadian workers that much more productive? NO, it is just because they all have little green OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Program) cards. Because like every other country in the civilized world, there is national health care and the company isn't responsible for it.
General Motors built cars that exactly matched the needs of an American economy based on suburban development, big box stores and fast food, all promoted by direct and hidden subsidies from the government. They built houses on wheels that had to act as living rooms, dining rooms and recreation rooms for the kids.
So now they have to reboot for a new generation, a new world. At least if they get bailed out they can make something useful. Friedman demands "a viable business plan" and may we suggest one:
Crank gas back up to four bucks a gallon and keep taxing it until we match Denmark and they will have lots of incentive to build efficient cars, mass transit and fuel sipping buses, and the government will get its investment back really fast. Otherwise Toyota and Honda will just print more Tundras and Ridgelines to serve the markets that the US automakers gave up.
And stop blaming GM for giving people what they wanted. To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us, not them.
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