What does Dan Neil, who covers the automotive beat for the LA Times, have in common with Michael Moore, the movie director and provacateur? They both want the government to buy General Motors instead of giving them more money.
What to do about the domestic automakers? My modest proposal: Nationalize GM.
To be clear, I mean that the federal government should buy GM; forget rathole loans or nonvoting equity shares. The company’s stockholder value has been essentially wiped out. The company’s enterprise value — the lock, stock and forklift price — is about $32 billion; its total debt is $45 billion. Let’s make GM an offer.
If you feel the gall of free-market ideology rising, consider that the measures being bruited about as preconditions for a bailout — firing GM’s top management; forcing a bankruptcy-like renegotiation of contracts with the UAW, suppliers and dealers (it has too many); and creating a czar of product development to force the building of green cars — are nationalization in all but name. I say embrace it. GM-USA.
Let me just state the obvious: Every single dollar Congress gives these three companies will be flushed right down the toilet. There is nothing the management teams of the Big 3 are going to do to convince people to go out during a recession and buy their big, gas-guzzling, inferior products. Just forget it. And, as sure as I am that the Ford family-owned Detroit Lions are not going to the Super Bowl — ever — I can guarantee you, after they burn through this $34 billion, they’ll be back for another $34 billion next summer.
So what to do? Members of Congress, here’s what I propose:
1. Transporting Americans is and should be one of the most important functions our government must address. And because we are facing a massive economic, energy and environmental crisis, the new president and Congress must do what Franklin Roosevelt did when he was faced with a crisis (and ordered the auto industry to stop building cars and instead build tanks and planes): The Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks). This will not only save jobs, but create millions of new ones.
2. You could buy ALL the common shares of stock in General Motors for less than $3 billion. Why should we give GM $18 billion or $25 billion or anything? Take the money and buy the company! (You’re going to demand collateral anyway if you give them the “loan,” and because we know they will default on that loan, you’re going to own the company in the end as it is. So why wait? Just buy them out now.)
3. None of us want government officials running a car company, but there are some very smart transportation geniuses who could be hired to do this. We need a Marshall Plan to switch us off oil-dependent vehicles and get us into the 21st century.
This proposal will save our industrial infrastructure — and millions of jobs. More importantly, it will create millions more. It literally could pull us out of this recession.
In contrast, yesterday General Motors presented its restructuring proposal to Congress. They promised, if Congress gave them $18 billion now, they would, in turn, eliminate around 20,000 jobs. You read that right. We give them billions so they can throw more Americans out of work. That’s been their Big Idea for the last 30 years — layoff thousands in order to protect profits. But no one ever stopped to ask this question: If you throw everyone out of work, who’s going to have the money to go out and buy a car?