Motors made my first car. It was a 1955 two-tone Chevrolet with
stick shift and black tires. It had an AM radio and air
conditioning, if I hand-cranked the window down in summer. It
came with bench seats, the better to have your date close to you.
I bought it used (this was before cars were
"pre-owned") in 1961. My Dad co-signed the $750 note,
which I paid.
Those were the days when you could fill up for pocket change.
Somewhere I have old Esso receipts that show a full tank of
regular gas cost me $3 dollars.
Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac were the mainstays of GM,
as Fairlane, Crestline Skyliner, Falcon and later Galaxie were
for Ford, some of which I would own as an adult. I would also own
some Chrysler products, so I have contributed to the profits of
all the "Big Three."
Ford is fending for itself without a bailout from Washington, but
GM and Chrysler have filed their restructuring proposals with the
government in order to receive additional billions to keep them
solvent. On Tuesday, GM received the final $4 billion on a $13.4
billion federal commitment. Chrysler, also getting $4 billion,
has already requested an additional $3 billion. The money is
conditioned on GM and Chrysler coming up with comprehensive
restructuring plans that will prove to the government that they
have made "aggressive" progress since they pleaded with
lawmakers last December for financial aid. Members of Congress
told the company CEOs that everyone had to make sacrifices,
including management, unions, suppliers, investors and
Here's a better idea: Let them die a slow death, with the
emphasis on slow. Tell workers (management always seems to land
on its feet) that they have a fixed amount of time to look for
new jobs. Government will help them with training and education,
but government cannot prop up companies that no longer make
products people want to buy in large enough numbers for them to
There are many reasons the car companies are in trouble, all of
which have been reported in the major media, but that is the past
and it is way too late in the game to do much about guaranteed
pensions and health care that ended up crippling GM, even after
the company successfully negotiated with UAW members to decrease
retirement benefits, which, honestly, is a little like quitting
smoking after being diagnosed with lung cancer.Some of the cars
of my childhood are no more. Kaiser-Frazier was the biggest
postwar challenger to the Big Three. Models included the 1949
Kaiser Custom Vagabond, the 1948 Frazer Manhattan four-door
sedan, the Dragon sedans and Henry J coupes. In 1970, Kaiser,
then known as the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, was sold to American
Other auto companies either went out of business or were bought.
These included Packard ("ask the man who owns one"),
Studebaker ("first by far with a postwar car"), and
Hudson, which began making cars in 1909 and, like other
automobile companies, in early 1942 was ordered by the U.S.
government to stop making passenger cars and concentrate
exclusively on fulfilling war contracts. In 1954, Hudson
eventually merged with Nash-Kelvinator to become American Motors,
a company that lasted in one form or another until 1987 when
Chrysler gobbled it up.
None of these companies (and many more before them and after with
names such as Tucker, DeLorean and Duesenberg) received
government bailouts. If they couldn't sell their products at a
profit, they either sold out, or went bust. People who worked for
them found other jobs. No one starved to death.
Americans have benefited from capitalism. Our government should
not be undermining an economic system that has produced more
prosperity for its citizens than any nation on earth. It cannot
forever prop up companies that make products not enough people
wish to buy. If a growing number of people prefer cars not
produced by GM and Chrysler, how will a government rescue plan
make them more likely to buy them?
The "going out of business sale" sign should go up now.
Taxpayers should not be expected to underwrite dying companies,
unless we get a free car for our money. But that only happens on