Saturday, December 6, 2008


I’ve been considering how much money I’d have to lose for my employer through carelessness, recklessness, or poor decision making before I’d find myself out of a job. I’m pretty sure that amount would be in the four-figure range—probably in the lower end of the four-figure range. Maybe including a decimal point.

So the question in my mind is how come the same CEOs who ran their companies into the ground are back on capital hill begging for bailout money. And I’m not just talking about auto execs—I’m talking about the banks and finance companies, too. How can so many rich guys screw up so badly and keep their jobs? It doesn’t make sense.

At least, it doesn’t make sense if you believe that the same rules apply to the rich as to the middle-class and the poor in this country. And, of course, they don’t.

While debate continues on Capitol Hill about bailing out the auto industry, it’s irksome to keep hearing people talk about how the auto companies have made poor decisions. The companies haven’t made poor decisions—the auto executives have.

Whoever put the windshield in my Taurus did a fine job. It hasn’t leaked once. And the conscientious auto workers who fastened down the seat belts and put in the air bags may save my life some day. They haven’t done anything wrong. Nor are the hundreds of thousands of other auto workers, parts manufacturers, and suppliers responsible in any way for the mess in the industry. But they’re the ones in danger of losing their jobs. (And not just their jobs—their careers. If the auto industry folds, where are they going to go to market their special skills? Korea?)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the auto executives have been making irresponsible decisions for decades. Every time gas prices went up, they mumbled about fuel economy and made a few modest gestures toward building more fuel-efficient cars. Fuel prices went down, and suddenly the highways were bumper-to-bumper with gas-guzzling SUVs. Greenhouse gases and the ozone layer be damned—there was money to be made!

Even from an economic standpoint—never mind the environment—it made sense to think ahead to a time when, inevitably, the price of oil would go up again. The least sensitivity to cultural trends should have made it obvious that more and more people in this country are serious about trying to reduce their “carbon footprint.” We’ve been through recessions before: people in charge of marketing the biggest-ticket item in most people’s budget, aside from their homes, should have been able to foresee a time when demand would be down—way down—at least for awhile. And all the innovations those foreign manufacturers were coming up with—did our domestic auto execs think we consumers wouldn’t notice?

So I’m in favor of bailing out all those skilled and dedicated auto workers and the employees of the companies that depend on them. We have to do that. But first, it only makes sense that Congress should tell each of the companies they bail out that the individuals who drove them into a ditch need to hit the road.