General Motors was once not only the world’s greatest and most prosperous automobile company but the world’s greatest and most prosperous manufacturing company, indeed, the world’s greatest and most prosperous company of any kind. Its success, wealth, and economic power, were symbolic of the success, wealth, and economic power of the United States.
General Motors has now perished, brought down by a kind of philosophical and economic tapeworm that consumed the company from within. The economic tapeworm was the United Automobile Workers union, which transformed the company into a carcass upon which it could feed while tying GM’s hands and feet with arbitrary work rules that prevented it from competing and providing any addition to what was to be consumed by the UAW’s vultures. The philosophical tapeworm lay within the minds of those running the company. For decades, it led them never to take a stand on principle and forcefully resist the UAW. Always the present cost of a major strike was allowed to outweigh the prospect of the ultimate destruction of the company, which was never considered fully real because it lay in the future.
In its last years, the company was reduced to the status of a “benefits” company, a company existing primarily for the purpose of paying the pensions, medical benefits, and exorbitant wages of the UAW members. In its last year, the company was reduced to the status of a beggar-benefits company, as it repeatedly turned to the Federal government for the billions of dollars that were needed to keep it in existence for just the next few months, in the hope that in that time a miracle would appear that would allow it to survive.
Now the company is gone, along with the billions of dollars of “bailout” money needlessly spent to “rescue” it. It would have been far simpler not to have given any bailout money and to have allowed the bankruptcy to occur last fall. That would not only have saved billions of dollars, but it would have avoided the United States Government becoming the major stockholder in the company that will control many or most of the remaining assets of GM.
General Motors was destroyed by operating under the ignorance, stupidity, and irrational greed of a labor union. From this point on, it is to operate under the ignorance, stupidity, and irrational greed of government officials acting in combination with that same labor union. It will survive only if fresh billions continue to be thrown at it. It if survives, instead of being a source of wealth, it will be a continuing drain of wealth.
What has happened to General Motors is symbolic of what is happening to the United States. The United States is being destroyed economically and culturally by irrational theories and policies. The standard of living of its people is falling. Government officials are preparing to accelerate the fall by means of the imposition of insane policies designed to curtail energy consumption and roll back the production of wealth. The American people have elected a President who has expressed regret that the Supreme Court “never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth” because it “didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution.”
If a company as great and as economically powerful as General Motors once was can collapse into a shadow of its former self, so too can every other company in the United States. So too can the United States itself.
Copyright © 2009, by George Reisman. George Reisman, Ph.D. is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute. His web site is www.capitalism.net and his blog is www.georgereisman.com/blog/. A pdf replica of his book can be downloaded to the reader’s hard drive simply by clicking on the book’s title, above, and then saving the file when it appears on the screen.