General Motors Checkmates Obama in Two Moves

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The wooden but plucky CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, told the press that if his company is allowed to go into Chapter 11, it will end up being a simple liquidation. GM will be torn into pieces and sold off as scrap. He made one good point to support his point of view. If a bankruptcy of the No. 1 U.S. car company drags on for several months, potential auto buyers will purchase vehicles from competitors that they view as being "safe". No one wants to buy a car that won't be serviced. Wagoner has made this point before, but it is more compelling now that the deadline for the government to approve or disapprove GM's restructuring plan is only two weeks away.

GM has effectively taken a page out of the AIG playbook for gaming the Administration and Congress. Henry Paulson and his associates were led to believe, perhaps rightly, that if AIG failed it would cost other financial companies so significantly that the government would have to bailout almost every large financial firm in the country. GM's argument is even simpler. A liquidation of the car firm would probably cost tens of thousands of jobs at the company, and many times that at suppliers. That argument is also old, but with the chance of liquidation in the next few months becoming more likely, it refreshes the strength of the logic. (See pictures of automakers.)

GM has been in the middle of quietly challenging the government's plan to close it down for three months now. The Administration has now sent its car experts to Detroit, and they have said that a bankruptcy of either GM or Chrysler is undesirable. They did not elaborate much on this analysis, but, from the standpoint of the car companies, they do not need to. It is enough that the blue chip analysts sent by the President to evaluate the car companies have a belief system that matches the one in The Motor City. (See pictures of the remains of Detroit.)

The financial and car industries have effectively ganged up on the government. They would seem to be weak because of their remarkable failures and reliance on outside help to keep them alive. The opposite is true. By being terribly crippled, they are sucking all of the money out of the U.S. Treasury because the Administration knows that if these parts of American business fail, replacing the jobs and capital will be insurmountable tasks. The recession would get much, much worse. Staying ahead of the job losses would become impossible. (See the 50 worst cars of all time.)

AIG has led the way for GM. It has taken government money and made it clear that a great deal of the cash has been wasted. Even with the evidence of that completely uncovered, the Administration has so little power that it cannot let AIG go under, as a punishment for taking taxpayer money and using it for multimillion dollar bonuses.

No one at GM is going to get a raise because the government will give it another $20 billion or $30 billion. The car industry embezzlement is more artful. With more than one million jobs at risk and unemployment rising at a pace rarely seen in American history, letting GM fail would completely compromise any chance of keeping the unemployment rate below 10%. If this figure rises above that number, it will make every American shudder.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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