Big Three: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
By: Ara

[cross posted at E Pluribus Unum]

It's obvious that we face an enormous crisis whose interlocking, moving parts involve the economy, energy, the environment, and national security. We have to address all of these while also attending to our manufacturing infrastructure and keeping our workers employed and building competitive products that are in demand around the world.

The last time we faced a crisis of these proportions was on the eve of World War II; then, FDR forced the nation's auto manufacturers to stop building automobiles and start building the machines of war. Detroit became the Arsenal of Democracy.

What obstacles are stopping us from taking advantage of the opportunity that this crisis has presented us this time?

Once upon a time, Henry Ford paid his workers the unheard of sum of five dollars a day to work in his auto plants. It secured him a skilled and loyal workforce for the next two decades and it allowed his workers to actually afford to buy the car -- the Model T -- they were building. Everyone was a winner.

Why not start reforming the business model of the bankrupt auto companies around the same idea? Why not re-organize the auto industry by paying workers to manufacture the Model V -- an electric car -- in such a way that they become the companies' own best customers?

Here's the thing: our industrial capacity is grossly underused. As a result, the capitalization of a General Motors is in the toilet. You could literally buy GM for less than $3 billion -- and Ford and Chrysler are similar bargains. I'd say it would be stupid to give that group of top executives ten times that amount to keep doing what got them -- us -- into this fix in the first place.

Instead, we should simply buy them out and replace them with top executives with the vision and foresight to bring our manufacturing infrastructure into the 21st century.

They could start by building cars that don't use oil. General Motors already has a car that will do this -- the Volt. Yes, it uses some gasoline if you cruise beyond the 40 mile range the lithium ion battery gives you. But the fact is, most people don't drive more than that in a day anyway. And if they do, a smal amont of gasoline kicks in to power the car -- and recharge the battery -- until you can get home again. The estimated gas mileage of a car like that reaches 150 miles per gallon.

So let's start building these cars now and partially pay the workers in those plants by giving them the very car they are building. You better believe they'd build a quality car given half the chance.

Bottom line: No more money for the fatheads that got us into this mess. Time to take a different direction. The Obama Administration should say to the Big Three, "If you've got a better idea, we'd like to hear it. Otherwise, follow us or get out of the way."