WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID?

11 12 2005

Last month I was talking about Delphi Corporation, the GM spinoff that’s spinning out, and I said “GM’s not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet”–and lo! and behold, next thing you know, GM’s in trouble. Sometimes I think it’s me. I tell my friends what a great relationship I think they’ve got and they tell me they’re splitting up, or they haven’t gotten it on in months. I buy a product regularly, but the store decides to discontinue it. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have any money to put in the stock market, or I’d lose it. But, I digress…

There are two obvious reasons why GM (and Ford, as well) are in trouble. Neither one has made much effort to develop and market hybrid vehicles, which, for the short term at least, are the wave of the future. Both have instead invested heavily in the SUV market, and SUV sales are plummeting. Must have something to do with the price of gas—and yes, I know, it’s back down around two bucks a gallon, but don’t think it won’t be heading for the sky again soon.

The other obvious problem for GM is health care costs. About $1500 from the proceeds of every car they sell goes to cover health care. That’s a lot of money, and it isn’t because GM workers are getting sick a lot. It’s because the health care monopoly is raising its rates. Good old fashioned capitalism—get ’em where ya want ’em, and soak ’em for everything they got. Adam Smith’s invisible hand raises its highly visible middle finger.

Everybody knows those two reasons why American automakers are in trouble. But there’s a third reason, and it goes back to the birth of the labor unions that are in such trouble now. The American Federation of Labor, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the UAW were all built on the same premise: that they would accept capitalism—they are not now and never have been “Socialist” labor unions—labor unions that demanded a voice in the management of the corporations they worked with. That was what made them acceptable to management, but now they are paying the price for poor managerial decisions that they had no part in. The managers who screwed things up depart with golden parachutes; the workers pay for management’s mistakes with the loss of their job security, health care, and pensions. This isn’t fair, but it’s capitalism.

Am I scaring you? Are you worried that the Green Party may actually be a Red party? Fear not. There’s capitalism, and then there’s capitalism. At an individual, or generally small, scale, there’s nothing wrong with using money to make money, or with private ownership of means of production. They encourage responsibility and innovation. But when this gets writ large, when corporations are recognized as “persons” who, due to their size, complexity, and longevity are far more powerful than any individual human being, and when those corporate persons are, by the nature of their charters, primarily committed to infinite self-aggrandizement, then we have unleashed a flood of demons on the land who will rape it and rob us until there is nothing left to plunder. BUT they’re our demons. We can destroy them if we only remember that and take action—and it’s high time we do that.

Corporations must be held responsible for more than just the short-term bottom line. They must be accountable to their employees and their customers, and they must be accountable for their effect on the general welfare. Neither GM nor Ford has scored well on any of these. We need a reform school for corporate persons, and they need to go there.

The only capital punishment I’m in favor of is for corporate persons—and I don’t mean hanging the individual executive dufusses that commit white collar crimes. I mean that corporations that take human life (think Dow and Bhopal) or that repeatedly plunder the public (think Haliburton) should be dissolved, and their assets redistributed to right the injustices they have committed. Sound good to you?

music:  Exene Cervenka, “Just Another Perfect Day”

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