Freakonomics: "When will they ever learn?”

What’s the Point of Bailing Out the Auto Industry?


Where does the auto bailout fit in?

It certainly doesn’t make markets more competitive; instead it subsidizes American oligopolists. It certainly doesn’t spur innovation; while the provisions may talk about this, bailouts have proven to be a poor way of getting firms to innovate.

It doesn’t reduce transactions costs; Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedures exist for that purpose, and they do well at it. The only possible economic argument might be fear that a bankruptcy by G.M. might spook many other markets. What about a bankruptcy by Wal-Mart? It’s much bigger than G.M., so wouldn’t the spooking effect be bigger?

Let’s face it — the bailout is purely political, pushed by troglodyte companies and their unions of high-paid workers, and helped by their agents — elected representatives from the many states in which auto production occurs. Once again, as was true with the Chrysler bailout of the late 1970’s, the taxpayer will take a beating. To quote the old protest song, “When will they ever learn?”

Comment: The Senate Republicans (bless their hearts) are playing tough on this: Republicans Float Auto Bailout Alternative

That proposal would impose even tougher requirements on the automakers than the bill approved by the House, and it would mandate the “auto czar” overseeing the rescue plan for the federal government to force the companies into bankruptcy should they fail to meet the requirements.

Under his plan, which was the subject of intense negotiations with Democrats, the automakers would be required by March 31 to cut their debt obligations by two-thirds — an enormous sum given that G.M. alone has more than $60 billion in debt.

The automakers would also be required to cut wages and benefits to match the average hourly wage and benefits of Nissan, Toyota and Honda employees based in the United States, and the companies would have to impose equivalent work rules. The plan would bar any pay for idled workers other than “customary severance pay.”

Democratic Congressional aides said that the United Auto Workers union did not support the proposal, but was willing to negotiate.

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