Friday, November 14, 2008

I Hate Agreeing With David Brooks

But unfortunately, I think he's largely correct with this column.

It wouldn't be a David Brooks column if it didn't include some questionable, sweeping generalizations. But I've spent enough attacking Brooks over the last several months, so I'll instead emphasize that I too am wary of the proposed bailout of the Big Three US automakers.

Unlike Brooks, I haven't made up my mind. He acknowledges that this is "an excruciatingly hard call." Millions of Americans make their living off the auto industry, from the UAW employees in Detroit to that annoying jackass who runs the local Ford dealership and invades your TV with poorly shot commercials where he hunts and kills large prices like he's in a Discovery Channel documentary.

And considering the state of the economy, the last thing this country needs are millions of unemployed auto workers, many of whom are older and don't have the kind of educational background and skillset that would allow them to find better jobs. It's easy to look down from on high, shrug your shoulders and say, "This is how capitalism works, kiddies. Bad companies fail, employees get fired. Sucks to be you. Have some unemployment compensation."

But, well, this kind of is how capitalism works. Ford, GM and Chrysler have been getting their asses kicked by Honda and Toyota for as long as I've been alive. The Japanese have continued to churn out better, cheaper, more fuel-efficient cars, while the American companies have been content to engage in an SUV arms race to see who can build the ungainliest manhood replacement. The market has spoken, and it's punishing the Big Three for their arrogance and willful ignorance.

The day those companies officially die (or, perhaps, file for bankruptcy) will certainly be a sad one, and there will be a lot of black crepe paper strewn about the capital to mourn the end of an era. But that is, I suppose, the downside of a free market. Previously good companies are mercilessly destroyed when competitors evolve. Good men are thrown out of work through no fault of their own. A city suffers. A national mythos long nurtured is rendered quaint.

I don't envy President-Elect Obama this decision, and I understand the inclination to help America's automakers. But I just can't get behind the idea of throwing billions at companies that are suffering because of their own mistakes.

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