Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Friday, December 12, 2008

Big 3

Cars have pretty much been a hobby of mine since I was a teenager. I had my first car before I had my driver's license and I got my license at 15. Usually I work on my own cars although I default to the professional mechanics when things go beyond my limited tool set or my limited know-how. I have had some foreign-named brands along the way, a couple of Saabs, a couple of Toyotas, a Datsun pickup that never saw the road, even a KIA made Ford Festiva that was an absolute blast to drive. That thing made the road seem very roomy! I had an 850 Mini when I was in England that I could drive on the Motorways with my gas-pedal foot on the floorboard and I owned two German-made Buick Opels. But I've had American cars too, quite a few of them, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Chrysler and Plymouth. I never had a Cadillac or Jeep but my parents had a Hudson, a Studebaker, and a Rambler while I was growing up. My Microsoft spell checker is going wild with all these old and foreign car names.
I've seen quite a few American auto names vanish. Hudson and Rambler and Studebaker are gone, victims of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.. Oldsmobile too and Plymouth, victims of the 21st Century. Rambler became AMC and that was swallowed by Chrysler which was swallowed by Daimler Benz of Germany and then spun off to some Wall Street folks that don't want it anymore. Oldsmobile was one of the old-timers that was swallowed by GM and by the time I came along shared parts and Fisher body designs with the rest of the GM lineup. Plymouth became indistinguishable from Dodge and even Chrysler in recent years with the Breeze/Stratus/Cirrus, the Voyager/Caravan/Town & Country, and the uni-named Neons and PT Cruisers.
But today the big news is that all these names may be ready to topple. Why? Because the economy is shot and the Republicans in the Senate have never seen a better opportunity to break the American auto unions.
There he goes pointing fingers again, you all say. True.
But it's true. Republicans yesterday filibustered a 14 billion dollar "Big 3" stimulus bill because the UAW wouldn't agree to wage parity with the foreign automakers who build cars here in America with non-union labor. The UAW said maybe they could do that in 2011 when they renew their contracts, but not in 2009 which is what Republicans insisted. Republicans wanted it right now because right now is when the UAW would be desperate. Things could be better in 2011. Things are looking really bad right now so right now is when Republicans insist on concessions.
Who knows where this will all end up. Maybe the Big 3 will fail, maybe they won't. But this thing has been coming for a very long time. The Big 3 automakers have been supporting Republicans for a long time trying to get the government to free them from the unions. If they now fail, it'll be because these corporate giants succeeded in their anti-union idealism, their Atlas Shrugged righteousness.
But aside from the political aspects of this, I am undecided about what is best here. I am not at all convinced that the Big 3 are America's savior when it comes to making our automobiles. They really do seem to be our worst enemy and they have been that for a very long time. It was the Big 3 that was unprepared for the gas shortages in the 70s. It was the Big 3 that was unprepared for Japanese and European quality. And it was the Big 3 that pioneered and championed the gas-guzzling SUV industry. Now it is the Big 3 that is unprepared for high energy prices and global warming. And it is the Big 3 that need taxpayer money now for their survival, or so it is claimed.
Will American workers no longer make automobiles if the Big 3 go down? Or is this what it appears to be, union busting? If the UAW collapses as the Republicans want it to, will other brand-named cars come along? Will we finally be allowed to build, own, and drive lightweight fuel-efficient cars?
I don't have a lot of sympathy for the UAW either. Union labor tends to drive up the price of goods for everybody, not just for high income consumers. Union contracts certainly fueled the inflation of the 70s and early 80s until Reagan lowered trade barriers and allowed direct low-wage foreign competition. We all have saved tons and tons of money by buying non-union products.
But this long economic struggle to overcome inflation by fighting the unions with low-cost foreign labor, free trade, and outsourcing is a slippery slope, a slope that increases in severity with every year that goes by. American factory towns have all suffered from America's post-industrial economy. Atlas Shrugged economics has a downside. What one hand giveth - low cost products - the other hand taketh away - fewer good-paying jobs. Everyone always says get an education. That'll get you good paying work. But even that is now on a down-slope. We think we can become masters of the service industry, be the engineers and the managers and the money counters while the third world does all our labor for low wages. But the balance of trade deficit is teaching us a powerful lesson in why that can't happen and the boondoggle in the Middle East is threatening to bankrupt the entire European master race. Do Republicans really believe that there is some way to maintain stability in America when millions of illegal immigrants flood out the American job market with a virtual underground labor economy?
Despite all this, Republicans are in their element in the US Senate filibustering America's pathway deeper into this economic mess so they can be the deliverers when America becomes desperate enough to just hand the whole thing over to them. Ayne Rand had that part right. John Galt's day is yet to come. John Galt, by the way, epitomized the concept of a secret conservative conspiracy working actively to bring America's economy to its knees so the superior conservative theology could take over. Anyone who believes no such conspiracy exists hasn't read the book.
But John Galt wasn't your typical American conservative. John Galt was intelligent and honest. We have a very long way to go before America can trust her future to the Republican Party. Meanwhile here we are cleaning the socialist influence out of corporate America. Things just might get a whole lot worse before they can even think of getting better. I wonder if Obama read Atlas Shrugged. Maybe the time has come for me to read it again.