Tag: Auto

Should You Vote on Keeping Your Local Car Dealership?

There are lots of reasons Washington should not bail out the automakers.  Whatever the justification for saving financial institutions – the “lifeblood” of the economy, etc., etc. – saving selected industrial enterprises is lemon socialism at its worst.  The idea that the federal government will be able to engineer an economic turnaround is, well, the sort of economic fantasy that unfortunately dominates Capitol Hill these days.

One obvious problem is that legislators now have a great excuse to micromanage the automakers.  And they have already started.  After all, if the taxpayers are providing subsidies, don’t they deserve to have dealerships, lots of dealerships, just down the street?  That’s what our Congresscritters seem to think.

Observes Stephen Chapman of the Chicago Tribune:

The Edsel was one of the biggest flops in the history of car making. Introduced with great fanfare by Ford in 1958, it had terrible sales and was junked after only three years. But if Congress had been running Ford, the Edsel would still be on the market.

That became clear last week, when Democrats as well as Republicans expressed horror at the notion that bankrupt companies with plummeting sales would need fewer retail sales outlets. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., led the way, asserting, “I honestly don’t believe that companies should be allowed to take taxpayer funds for a bailout and then leave it to local dealers and their customers to fend for themselves.”

Supporters of free markets can be grateful to Rockefeller for showing one more reason government shouldn’t rescue unsuccessful companies. As it happens, taxpayers are less likely to get their money back if the automakers are barred from paring dealerships. Protecting those dealers merely means putting someone else at risk, and that someone has been sleeping in your bed.

The Constitution guarantees West Virginia two senators, and Rockefeller seems to think it also guarantees the state a fixed supply of car sellers. “Chrysler is eliminating 40 percent of its dealerships in my state,” he fumed, “and I have heard that GM will eliminate more than 30 percent.” This development raises the ghastly prospect that “some consumers in West Virginia will have to travel much farther distances to get their cars serviced under warranty.”

Dealers were on hand to join the chorus. “To be arbitrarily closed with no compensation is wasteful and devastating,” said Russell Whatley, owner of a Chrysler outlet in Mineral Wells, Texas.

Lemon socialism mixed with pork barrel politics!  Could it get any worse?  Don’t ask: after all, this is Washington, D.C.

Week in Review: A Speech in Cairo, an Anniversary in China and a U.S. Bankruptcy

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World

cairoIn Cairo on Thursday, President Obama asked for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” and spoke at some length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Cato scholar Christopher Preble comments, “At times, it sounded like a state of the union address, with a litany of promises intended to appeal to particular interest groups. …That said, I thought the president hit the essential points without overpromising.”

Preble goes on to say:

He did not ignore that which divides the United States from the world at large, and many Muslims in particular, nor was he afraid to address squarely the lies and distortions — including the implication that 9/11 never happened, or was not the product of al Qaeda — that have made the situation worse than it should be. He stressed the common interests that should draw people to support U.S. policies rather than oppose them: these include our opposition to the use of violence against innocents; our support for democracy and self-government; and our hostility toward racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. All good.

David Boaz contends that there are a number of other nations the president could have chosen to deliver his address:

Americans forget that the Muslim world and the Arab world are not synonymous. In fact, only 15 to 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries, barely more than the number in Indonesia alone and far fewer than the number in the Indian subcontinent. It seems to me that Obama would be better off delivering his message to the Muslim world somewhere closer to where most Muslims live. Perhaps even in his own childhood home of Indonesia.

Not only are there more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, the Muslim countries of south and southeast Asia have done a better job of integrating Islam and modern democratic capitalism…. Egypt is a fine place for a speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Pakistan he could give a speech on America and the Muslim world surrounded by rival political leaders in a democratic country and by internationally recognized business leaders. It would be good for the president to draw attention to this more moderate version of Islam.

Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later

tsquare1It has been 20 years since the tragic deaths of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and 30 years since Deng Xiaoping embarked on economic reform in China. Cato scholar James A. Dorn comments, “After 20 years China has made substantial economic progress, but the ghosts of Tiananmen are restless and will continue to be so until the Goddess of Liberty is restored.”

In Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Dorn discusses the perception of human rights in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre, saying that many young people are beginning to accept the existence of human rights independent of the state.

A few days before the anniversary, social media Web sites like Twitter and YouTube were blocked in China. Cato scholar Jim Harper says that it’s going to take a lot more than tanks to shut down the message of freedom in today’s online world:

In 1989, when a nascent pro-democracy movement wanted to communicate its vitality and prepare to take on the state, meeting en masse was vital. But that made it fairly easy for the CCP to roll in and crush the dream of democracy.

Twenty years later, the Internet is the place where mass movements for liberty can take root. While the CCP is attempting to use the electronic equivalent of an armored division to prevent change, reform today is a question of when, not if. Shutting down open dialogue will only slow the democratic transition to freedom, which the Chinese government cannot ultimately prevent.

Taxpayers Acquire Failing Auto Company

After billions of dollars were spent over the course of two presidential administrations to keep General Motors afloat, the American car company filed for bankruptcy this week anyway.

Last year Cato trade expert Daniel J. Ikenson appeared on dozens of radio and television programs and wrote op-eds in newspapers and magazines explaining why automakers should file for bankruptcy—before spending billions in taxpayer dollars.

Which leaves Ikenson asking one very important question: “What was the point of that?

In November, GM turned to the federal government for a bailout loan — the one final alternative to bankruptcy. After a lot of discussion and some rich debate, Congress voted against a bailout, seemingly foreclosing all options except bankruptcy. But before GM could avail itself of bankruptcy protection, President Bush took the fateful decision of circumventing Congress and diverting $15.4 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to GM (in the chummy spirit of avoiding tough news around the holidays).

That was the original sin. George W. Bush is very much complicit in the nationalization of GM and the cascade of similar interventions that may follow. Had Bush not funded GM in December (under questionable authority, no less), the company probably would have filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 1, at which point prospective buyers, both foreign and domestic, would have surfaced and made bids for spin-off assets or equity stakes in the “New GM,” just as is happening now.

Meanwhile, the government takeover of GM puts the fate of Ford Motors, a company that didn’t take any bailout money, into question:

Thus, what’s going to happen to Ford? With the public aware that the administration will go to bat for GM, who will want to own Ford stock? Who will lend Ford money (particularly in light of the way GM’s and Chrysler’s bondholders were treated). Who wants to compete against an entity backed by an unrestrained national treasury?

Ultimately, if I’m a member of Ford management or a large shareholder, I’m thinking that my biggest competitors, who’ve made terrible business decisions over the years, just got their debts erased and their downsides covered. Thus, even if my balance sheet is healthy enough to go it alone, why bother? And that calculation presents the specter of another taxpayer bailout to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars, and another government-run auto company.

GM’s Nationalization and China’s Capitalists

GM’s restructuring under Chapter 11 includes plans to sell off the Hummer, Saab, and Saturn brands. Well, just one day after GM’s bankruptcy filing, a Chinese firm has come forward with a $500 million offer to purchase Hummer. The prospective buyer is Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co Ltd, a manufacturing company in western China, which hopes to become an automaker.

Not only is the Hummer offer the first bid for a GM asset in bankruptcy, but the bidder is foreign. Not only is the bidder foreign, but Chinese. And not only is the bidder Chinese, but the Hummer was first developed by the U.S. military. Thus, this is certain to be characterized as a national security matter, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will have to review the proposal. There should be little doubt that the economic nationalists will be out in full force, warning CFIUS against transferring sensitive technologies to Red China.

Let me offer two quick points, as the bulging veins in my temples pulsate with disdain for official Washington.

First, if this deal is rejected (even if the bidder is scared away by detractors), any remaining credibility to the proposition that the United States will once again become that beacon on a hill, exemplifying for the world the virtues of free markets and limited government, will vanish into the ether. There has been too much U.S. hypocrisy on free trade and cross-border investment and too much double talk about the impropriety of government subsidizing national champions, that another indiscretion in a high profile case will blow open the already-bowing flood gates to economic nationalism worldwide. Considering that U.S. companies sell five times as much stuff to foreigners through their foreign subsidiaries than by exporting from the United States, investment protectionism is as advisable as nationalizing car companies.

Second, the willingness of this Chinese company to purchase Hummer serves as a stark reminder of what could have been. Had George W. Bush not allocated TARP money to GM last December, in circumvention of Congress’s rejection of a bailout, then GM likely would have filed for bankruptcy on January 1. At that point, there would likely have been plenty of offers from foreign and domestic concerns for individual assets to spin off or for equity stakes in the New GM. There would have been plant closures, dealership terminations, and jobs losses, as there is under the nationalization plan anyway. But taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for $50+ billion, a sum that is much more likely to grow larger than it is to be repaid. It is also a sum that will serve as the rationalization for further government interventions on GM’s behalf.

Simultaneously Destroying and Subsidizing the Auto Industry

The Obama Administration has announced new fuel-economy regulations and emissions rules that will boost the cost of new car by at least $1300. This is probably another nail in the coffin of the American automobile industry, but Jerry Taylor is the guy to provide thoughtful analysis. When I read about the new White House scheme, the first thing that came to my mind was this extremely clever video (yes, I am envious that my videos are not this creative) about the type of car we will all be driving if politicians continue to run amok:

An Overdue Reckoning in the Auto Sector

Bloomberg reports:

General Motors Corp., facing a probable bankruptcy filing by June 1, is telling 1,100 “underperforming” U.S. dealers they will be terminated as the automaker starts shrinking its retail network.

Most of the closings will occur by October 2010, and none are happening now, Detroit-based GM said today. The targeted outlets will have until the end of the month to appeal the decisions, GM said, without specifying the stores on the list.

The shutdowns are the biggest U.S. automaker’s first step toward paring domestic dealers to a range of 3,600 to 4,000 from 5,969 by the end of 2010.

To be sure, it is a very sad day for thousands of workers and businesses around the country.  But we’re in the midst of a deep recession, which may be nowhere deeper than in the auto sector.  Demand for cars and light trucks has absolutely tanked, which means the economy has an excess supply of inventory, productive capacity, and retail capacity.

Dealerships are closing, as they should be. Chrysler’s in bankruptcy, as it should be. GM is headed for bankruptcy, as it should be.

But this all should have happened long ago…

…long before President George W. Bush had the chance to circumvent the wishes of Congress to give Chrysler and GM more than $19 billion (not including GMAC) from the TARP allotment,

…long before President Obama had the chance to promise billions more and assume a large operational role for the U.S. government in Chrysler’s and GM’s future operations,

…long before President Obama had the chance to create a huge moral hazard by strong-arming Chrysler’s preferred lenders into taking pennies on their loan dollars, while giving preference to claimants of lesser priority,

…long before Ford, Toyota, Honda, BMW, Kia, and the rest of America’s automobile industry were implicitly taxed by the government’s insistence on preventing two firms from exiting the market or substantially reducing their presence in accordance with established bankruptcy provisions.

And most certainly, long before other businesses in other industries started to get the idea that failure is the new success.

Cato and the Bailouts: A Correction for the NY Times ‘Economix’ Blog

At the New York Times Economix blog, economist Nancy Folbre of the University of Massachusetts writes:

The libertarian Cato Institute often emphasizes the issue of corporate welfare, but it’s remained remarkably quiet so far on the topic of bailouts.

Excuse me?

Since she linked to one of our papers on corporate welfare, we assume she’s visited our site. How, then, could she get such an impression? Cato scholars have been deploring bailouts since last September. (Actually, since the Chrysler bailout of 1979, but we’ll skip forward to the recent avalanche of Bush-Obama bailouts.) Just recently, for instance, in – ahem – the New York Times, senior fellow William Poole implored, “Stop the Bailouts.” I wonder if our commentaries started with my blog post “Bailout Nation?” last September 8? Or maybe with Thomas Humphrey and Richard Timberlake’s “The Imperial Fed,” deploring the Federal Reserve’s help for Bear Stearns, on April 14 of last year?

Cato scholars appeared on more than 90 radio and television programs to criticize the bailouts during the last quarter of 2008. Here’s a video compilation of some of those appearances.

Folbre complains that some people seem more concerned about welfare – TANF, in the latest federal acronym – than about welfare for bankers – TARP. Google says that there are 138 references to TANF over the past 13 years or so on the Cato website, and 231 references to TARP in the past few months.

Now she has a legitimate point. Welfare for the rich is at least as bad as welfare for the poor. And as much as welfare for the poor has cost taxpayers, the new welfare for banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies, and automobile industries is costing us more. Samuel Brittan of the Financial Times has written that “reassignment,” an economic policy that changes individuals’ ranking in the hierarchy of incomes, is far more offensive than a policy of redistribution, which in his idealized vision would merely raise the incomes of the poorest members of society. By that standard, taxing some businesses and individuals to subsidize the high incomes of others is certainly offensive. Of course, Brittan underemphasized the harm done by welfare to people who become trapped in dependency. But there’s good reason to oppose both TANF and TARP, and Cato scholars have done both.

Lest the good work of Cato’s New Media Manager Chris Moody go under-utilized, here’s a probably incomplete guide to Cato scholars’ comments on the bailouts of the past few months. (Note that it doesn’t include blog posts, of which there have been many.) Quiet? I don’t think so:

Articles:

September 9, 2008, “Fannie/Freddie Bailout Baloney,” Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr., New York Post.

September 18, 2008, “Why Bailouts Scare Stocks,” Alan Reynolds, New York Post.

September 17, 2008, “Bailout-Mania,” Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters, Forbes.com.

October 1, 2008, “The Bailout’s Essential Brazenness,” Jay Cochran, Cato.org.

October 3, 2008, “The Big Bailout – What’s Next?” Warren Coats, Cato.org

October 13, 2008, “Should Taxpayers Fund the American Dream?,” Daniel J. Mitchell, Los Angeles Times.

October 20, 2008, “Is the Bailout Constitutional?,” Robert A. Levy, Legal Times.

November 11, 2008, “There’s Nothing Wrong with a “Big Two”,” Daniel J. Ikenson, New York Daily News.

November 21, 2008, “Don’t Bail Out the Big Three,” Daniel J. Ikenson, The American.

November 5, 2008, “Is it Constitutional?,” Richard W. Rahn, Washington Times.

December 14, 2008, “Consequences of the Bailout,” Richard W. Rahn, Washington Times.

December 5, 2008, “Bail Out Car Buyers?,” Daniel J. Ikenson, Los Angeles Times.

December 3, 2008, “Big Three Ask for Money — Again,” Daniel J. Ikenson, Los Angeles Times.

December 10, 2008, “Dissecting the Bailout Plan,” Alan Reynolds, Wall Street Journal.

January 14, 2009, “Bailing out the States,” Michael New, Washington Times.

February 28, 2009, “Stop the Bailouts,” William Poole, The New York Times.

Papers:

Bailout or Bankruptcy?,” by Jeffrey A. Miron (Cato Journal, Winter 2009)

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae: An Exit Strategy for the Taxpayer,” by Arnold Kling (September 8, 2008)

Financial Crisis and Public Policy,” by Jagadeesh Gokhale (March 23, 2009)

Bright Lines and Bailouts: To Bail or Not To Bail, That Is the Question,” by Vern McKinley and Gary Gegenheimer (April 20, 2009)

On Television and Radio:

Dan Ikenson discusses auto bailout

September 30, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the failed bailout on NPR Affiliate KPCC’s “The Patt Morrison Show”

September 29, 2008 Peter Van Doren discusses government bailouts on WTTG FOX 5.

September 29, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the failed bailout on NPR Affiliate KPCC’s “The Patt Morrison Show”

September 26, 2008 Jagadeesh Gokhale discusses the bailout on BNN (CANADA)

September 26, 2008 Steve H. Hanke discusses the bailout on BBC Radio’s “Have Your Say”

September 25, 2008 Patrick Basham discusses the bailout on Radio America’s “The Michael Reagan Show”

September 24, 2008 William A. Niskanen discusses government bailouts on WUSA 9

September 24, 2008 William Poole discusses government bailouts on NPR DC Affiliate WAMU’s “The Diane Rehm Show”

September 23, 2008 William A. Niskanen discusses government bailouts on CNBC’s “Closing Bell”

September 23, 2008Bert Ely discusses government bailouts on WOR’s “The John Gambling Show”

September 22, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses government bailouts on the CBS “Early Show”

September 22, 2008 William Poole discusses government bailouts on Bloomberg Live.

September 22, 2008 William A. Niskanen discusses government bailouts of financial institutions on Bloomberg TV

September 22, 2008 Steve H. Hanke discusses government bailouts of financial institutions on Bloomberg Radio’s “On the Money”

September 19, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses government bailouts on Federal News Radio

September 18, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the AIG bailout on KTAR’s “Ankarlo Mornings”

September 17, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the AIG bailout on WTTG FOX 5

September 17, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the AIG bailout on FOX’s “America’s Election HQ”

September 10, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses a proposed bailout for the auto industry on Marketplace Radio.

October 24, 2008 Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr. discusses the fallout of the bailout on FOX Business Network’s “Cavuto”

October 15, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the bailout on Federal News Radio

October 14, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the financial crisis on CNN’s “American Morning”

October 14, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the banking crisis on BBC World

October 14, 2008 Gerald P. O’Driscoll Jr. discusses the banking crisis on WBAL Radio. (Baltimore, MD)

October 13, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the financial crisis on the FOX Business Network

October 9, 2008 Jim Powell discusses the economy on FOX Business

October 9, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the current treasury plan on Reuters TV.

October 9, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the bailout on the WIBA’s “Upfront w/Vicki McKenna” (Madison, WI)

October 2, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the bailout bill on WRVA’s “Morning Show” (West Virginia)

October 1, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the bailout plan on CNBC’s “On the Money.”

October 1, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the bailout plan on CNBC’s “Power Lunch”

October 1, 2008 William Poole discusses the bailout on KMOX’s “The Charlie Brennan Show” (St. Louis, MO)

October 1, 2008 Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the failed bailout on WTOP Radio (Washington, D.C.)

Week in Review: ‘Saving’ the World, Government Control and Drug Decriminalization

G-20 Summit Agrees to International Spending Plan

g-2The Washington Post reports, “Leaders from more than 20 major nations including the United States decided Thursday to make available an additional $1 trillion for the world economy through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions as part of a broad package of measures to overcome the global financial crisis.”

Cato scholars Richard W. Rahn, Daniel J. Ikenson and Ian Vásquez commented on the London-based meeting:

Rahn: “President Obama of the U.S. and Prime Minister Brown of the U.K. will be pressing for more so-called stimulus spending by other nations, despite the fact that the historical evidence shows that big increases in government spending are more likely to be damaging and slow down recovery than they are to promote vigorous economic expansion and job creation.”

Vásquez: “The push by some countries for massive increases in spending to address the global financial crisis smacks of political and bureaucratic opportunism. A prime example is Washington’s call to substantially increase the resources of the International Financial Institutions… There is no reason to think that massive increases of the IFIs’ funds will not worsen, rather than improve, their record or the accountability of the aid agencies and borrower governments.”

Ikenson: “Certainly it is crucial to avoid protectionist policies that clog the arteries of economic recovery and help nobody but politicians. But it is also important to keep things in perspective: the world is not on the brink of a global trade war, as some have suggested.”

Ikenson appeared on CNBC this week to push for a reduction of trade barriers in international markets.

With fears mounting over a global shift toward protectionism, Cato senior fellow Tom Palmer and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation are circulating a petition against restrictive trade measures.

Obama Administration Forces Out GM CEO

rick-wagonerPresident Obama took an unprecedented step toward greater control of a private corporation after forcing General Motors CEO  Rick Wagoner to leave the company. The New York Post reports “the administration threatened to withhold bailout money from the company if he didn’t.”

Writing for the Washington Post, trade analyst Dan Ikenson explained why the government is responsible for any GM failure from now on:

President Obama’s newly discovered prudence with taxpayer money and his tough-love approach to GM and Chrysler would both have more credibility if he hadn’t demanded Rick Wagoner’s resignation, as well. By imposing operational conditions normally reserved for boards of directors, the administration is now bound to the infamous “Pottery Barn” rule: you break it, you buy it. If things go further south, the government is now complicit.

Wagoner’s replacement, Fritz Henderson, said Tuesday that after receiving billions of taxpayer dollars, the company is considering bankruptcy as an option. Cato scholars recommended bankruptcy months ago:

Dan Ikenson, November 21, 2008: “Bailing out Detroit is unnecessary. After all, this is why we have the bankruptcy process. If companies in Chapter 11 can be salvaged, a bankruptcy judge will help them find the way. In the case of the Big Three, a bankruptcy process would almost certainly require them to dissolve their current union contracts. Revamping their labor structures is the single most important change that GM, Ford, and Chrysler could make — and yet it is the one change that many pro-bailout Democrats wish to ignore.”

Daniel J. Mitchell, November 13, 2008:  “Advocates oftentimes admit that bailouts are not good policy, but they invariably argue that short-term considerations should trump long-term sensible policy. Their biggest assertion is that a bailout is necessary to prevent bankruptcy, and that avoiding this result is critical to prevent catastrophe. But Chapter 11 protection may be precisely what is needed to put American auto companies back on the path to profitability. Bankruptcy laws specifically are designed to give companies an opportunity — under court supervision — to reduce costs and streamline operations.”

Dan Ikenson, December 5, 2008: “The best solution is to allow the bankruptcy process to work. It will be needed. There are going to be jobs lost, but there is really nothing policymakers can do about that without exacerbating problems elsewhere. The numbers won’t be as dire as the Big Three have been projecting.”

Cato Links

  • As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th birthday, there are signs of mounting trouble within the alliance and increasing reasons to doubt the organization’s relevance regarding the foreign policy challenges of the 21st century. In a new study, Cato scholar Ted Galen Carpenter argues that NATO’s time is up.
  • Should immigration agents target businesses knowingly hiring illegal immigrants? Cato scholar Jim Harper weighs in on a Fox News debate.
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