Friday, July 11, 2008

Yet Another Reason I Don't Feel Sorry For GM

I'm sorry, Detroit. I do feel sorry for you. But I don't feel sorry for General Motors.

I’ve complained about the short-sightedness of General Motors before. The way they scared the unions into backing their campaign against raising CAFE standards was sheer idiocy, for one thing. When they kept manufacturing gas-slurping SUVs when all signals pointed to a shift in market trends, I threw my hands up. It was just suicide.

But yesterday I ran across this tidbit:
General Motors established its pension in the “treaty of Detroit,” the five-year contract that it signed with the United Automobile Workers in 1950 that also provided health insurance and other benefits for the company’s workers. Walter Reuther, the union’s captain, would have preferred that the government provide pensions and health care to all citizens. He urged the automakers to “go down to Washington and fight with us” for federal benefits.

But the automakers wanted no part of socialized care.
They seemed not to notice, as a union expert wrote, that if Washington didn’t provide social insurance it would be “sought from employers across the collective bargaining table.”

Oh, yet another dumb move, General Motors! So that’s why we don’t have socialized medicine here. Thanks a lot, assholes!

But it gets worse:

General Motors got into the dubious habit of steadily increasing worker benefits. In 1961, G.M. was able to get away with a skimpy 2.5 percent increase in wages by also guaranteeing a 12 percent rise in pensions. Such promises significantly burdened the company’s future. As workers lived longer, the cost of fulfilling pension commitments rose. And health care costs exploded.

Putting these things off to the future is such a Republican way of doing things; anyone wonder how we’re going to pay for the Iraq War? Well, look in the eyes of your grandchildren (or imagine them if you don’t have any yet). And then apologize, profusely, for saddling them with this debt.

You know, these things always come back to bite you in the ass, as GM found out too late:

In the ’90s, the consequences of maintaining a corporate welfare state became too obvious to ignore. In that decade, General Motors poured tens of billions of dollars into its pension fund — an irretrievable loss of opportunity. What else might G.M. have accomplished with that money? It could have designed new cars or researched alternative fuels. Or it could have acquired half of Toyota — a company that the stock market now values at close to $150 billion.

Well, thank God that didn't happen. GM in its wisdom would have killed the Prius.

What’s good for General Motors hasn’t been good for America. And it's just a small piece of a much larger problem, a mindset of irresponsibility that puts off to the future things we're too chickenshit to resolve today. "I'll worry about it tomorrow" didn't work for Scarlett O'Hara and it won't work for us. It really makes me wonder what problems this country is going to face when our own $3 trillion war bill comes due.

What a phenomenal waste.