OK, let me get this straight. Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, backed up by Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, made it a condition of the auto companies receiving help that the United Auto Workers agree to a reduction of wages and benefits to the level of those paid by the Japanese companies that have plants in those senators’ states. Desperate for the deal, the UAW and the Democrats agreed to a phased-in reduction, but the Republicans insisted on an immediate cut. The deal broke down, and Republicans--aided by a few Red State Democrats (e.g. Baucus, Lincoln, Tester)--used a filibuster to kill the bill, which would have passed on a majority vote.
Here’s what bothers me. Japanese companies, which for years have benefited from one-way deal by which they could sell cars in the U.S. while U.S. companies were stymied in selling cars and trucks in Japan, set up non-union plants in low-wage, low-education, right-to-work states where they can pay less wages and benefits to their workers. Of course, in Japan, these same companies recognize and work with unions, but not here, where they have a chance to undercut American firms that work with unions. Corker and these other great patriots want to allow these Japanese companies to dictate the wages and benefits that American companies pay their workers. It’s despicable. Imagine, for a moment, American companies being allow to operate in this manner in Japan or South Korea. It would not happen.
Of course, this is not just about automobile companies. If you look at the history of the Great Depression, what tipped that event from a global recession to depression was precisely a series of dumb, craven--or in Keynes’ word, “feather-brained”--moves by politicians blinded by ideology or by narrow self-interest. An interest rate hike here, a balanced budget there, a spending reduction or two, and we went from ten to twenty percent unemployment. Don’t imagine for a moment that the failure to bailout the auto companies isn’t one of those feather-brained moves.
Put it this way. What we have learned from the economics of the Great Depression is that in order to end the spiral of unemployment, government has to throw money at companies and consumers. It should be trying to raise wages, not lower them. The Wall Street bailout was a fiasco, but it was probably better than nothing. And the auto bailout was considerably better thought-out. Now there is a good prospect that two of the Big Three will fail, jeopardizing, perhaps, as many as a million jobs. That’s exactly the kind of thing that Americans should not be doing. But don’t tell that to those great patriots Corker, DeMint, or Shelby. They know better.
--John B. Judis