»  National Review Online

November 17, 2008

   Next Under the Bus: UAW?

        or an auto industry bailout?

 

Everybody should see a ghost town. I saw one the year before last, visiting Montana. That was Garnet ghost town in the Rockies, thirty miles east of Missoula. Ghost towns are melancholy places, of course. There's a visitor center in Garnet with photographs of the people who once lived there. It seems to have been a good family town. There were lots of kids, a well-built school, a dance hall. What happened to those people when the town emptied out, in the early 1900s? They went elsewhere, I guess. Relocating doesn't come hard to Americans. A great many of us, after all, came from some other place across the sea, or our parents or grandparents did.

The U.S.A. doesn't just have ghost towns, it has ghost cities. Detroit, for example. Some quotes from DetroitBlog (though for full effect, you really need to take the link and look at the pictures):

Abandoned industrial sites like the Fisher Body 21 plant, the Studebaker plant, the Continental Aluminum plant and the Detroit Screw Works plant have been overrun by trees growing through walls and roofs … Even downtown, abandoned skyscrapers, with windows left open to the elements, become giant pigeon coops, with upper floors covered in inches of pigeon droppings, as generation after generation of pigeons live uninterrupted by humans in the middle of a major downtown. Buildings like the Wurlitzer, the Lafer and the Broderick house hundreds of pigeons between them.

Trees up to two or three stories tall rise up from the roofs of a number of local skyscrapers, like the Metropolitan, Charlevoix and Lafayette buildings, and hotels like the Fort-Shelby, and used to rise from the Statler and Book Cadillac hotels. A bushy tree rises higher each year from the Detroit Building's roof on Park Avenue …

Probably the most visible wildlife in the city are the roving packs of wild dogs in Detroit neighborhoods …

Detroit is of course synonymous with automobile manufacturing. It is the home of the Big Three automakers. Given the current condition of the Big Three, there could be a lot more residential opportunities opening up for Detroit pigeons soon.

Should we, the people, be tithed to save the grand old American auto manufacturers of Detroit, and the unknown number — the figure three million is being kicked around — of other jobs that depend on them in some secondary way? The generality of opinion among conservatives, which I share, is that we should not. For all our disagreements, there are come core issues we are unanimous about, and one of them is that government should not be running businesses. Amtrak and the Postal Service are quite enough socialism for us — too much, for most of us.

The case for the bailout is not contemptible, though. The papo-paleo-con writer Tom Piatak makes it very eloquently in Taki's Magazine:

All my life, I have seen tax dollars flow out of the industrial Midwest, to pay for water projects so people can live in the desert, agricultural subsidies, the myriad of military installations generations of Southern congressmen succeeded in spreading around the Sunbelt, not to mention the S & L bailout, which was concentrated in the Sunbelt, and now the massive Wall Street bailout, which, not coincidentally, has been especially helpful to the city National Review calls home. [Tom was in part responding to some anti-bailout remarks by Rich Lowry.] The notion that America can afford all that, but cannot afford a $25-50 billion dollar loan to help preserve the industry vital to the industrial Midwest, is laughable, and a cruel joke to those of us who live here.

A good knock-down argument follows on the comment thread, with a lot of sauce-for-the-gander complaining — "Where's my bailout?" That's the problem with bailouts: each one weakens the case against the next one. Best to have none at all. I opposed the original banks bailout on the principle fiat justitia ruat coelum; but people tell me that was a special case, because we have international responsibilities as issuers of the world's main reserve currency, and had to forestall a planet-wide collapse of credit. All right, but we should still have stopped at the one.

Speaking of The One, what will our President-elect do about any of this? The under-the-bus metaphor is getting a bit threadbare, but the man certainly has shown surprising willingness to sacrifice old acquaintances and ideals to his ambition. Most recently, by selecting über-Israel-hawk Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Obama can be fairly accused of throwing Palestinians under the bus. His old teacher Edward Said must be spinning in his grave.

For left-liberals though, Palestinians are a boutique cause. Dropping them may bruise sensibilities, but is really cost-free. They are anyway hopeless losers, so who cares? United Auto Workers is a different case — half a million actual Americans, fervent in Obama's support this past campaign season. Throw them under the bus?

And yet … they are losers too. The Big Three are loser corporations; their products are loser products (I speak as the owner of two); their employees are loser employees. America flees from losers. That's how we are. The taint of loserdom is on the Big Three. As Tom himself points out somewhere in that comment thread, even a bankruptcy reorganization may not help, as Americans won't buy cars from a firm in reorganization — a loser firm.

It's harsh to speak in those terms, and I wouldn't blame Big Three employees for being offended. One might say: "Hey, I worked hard all my life, paid my taxes and union dues, did my best for my company and my country. Now you're saying I'm a loser? You're saying I have to uproot myself and seek work elsewhere, my community has to break up, and this country has to lose a key domestic industry? Step outside, Mr. Derbyshire …"

It's not personal, though. You can be a loser by the blind workings of chance. Life's a card game. There should be some decent public provision for the losers, and there is:  unemployment benefits, welfare. At bottom, though, we are a nation of gamblers and adventurers, taking our chances with life and fate. When we stop being that, we become some smug, placid welfarist haven of security and egalitarianism — a big Sweden. A lot of Americans would like that, but not many of them are conservatives.

America doesn't do jobs for life. The employments we enter into are provisional and speculative. Ask the descendants of those Garnet miners. That's us; that's America.