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General Interest

BLUE COLLAR BLUES

It’s a good thing our steel mills, shipyards and auto manufacturers didn’t go belly up in 1940, otherwise winning the two separate major wars in the Pacific and in Europe that together were called World War 2 might have been a problem for us. Odds are that Toyota wouldn’t have retooled their Camry factories to build thousands of Sherman tanks, countless Jeeps and other military vehicles like the Big Three auto makers did. And having our ships built in China and South Korea might have been problematic, especially since the steel to build them would have had to come from Japanese mills, a country we were having fairly heated disagreements with starting in 1941.

What enabled us to win World War 2 in just three and a half years was our huge industrial base, an infrastructure of heavy industry unmatched before or since. We not only cranked out endless assembly lines of tanks, guns, artillery, bombs, planes, ships and landing craft for our own 12 million men under arms, but also sent these items in vast quantities to England, China, Russia and other allies. In the event of another huge war, never out of the realm of possibility in this dangerous world, we’re screwed. We can make aircraft and guns alright, but that’s not near enough to fight a global war, unless we plan to blow up the world with our nukes, not exactly an optimal course of action. For big wars, we need soldiers and the means to fully equip them and get them to and from the battlefields. Who’s going to make their uniforms, China?

Likely the people who ruined the industrial capacity of the United States in the name of globalization and maximizing profits are going to be the first ones to bitch to the government when their foreign factories are overrun by enemy soldiers. That’s what happens in wars. When the factories were here in the United States nobody attacked them. And now comes news that the Big Three auto makers are going the way of the Dodo bird and the textile industry and the government doesn’t want to rescue them like they are doing with our giant banks.

The government has plenty of good reasons why they shouldn’t help General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. These businesses have been completely mismanaged for 30 years and outperformed by foreign auto makers for even longer. In the forty years that America has stumbled around trying to formulate a coherent energy policy none of these companies stepped up and mass produced energy efficient cars. Their response to the common knowledge that petroleum reserves were shrinking and its fumes choking the planet? Sports Utility Vehicles getting 8 to 10 miles per gallon of gasoline. For that alone their stockholders should have cleaned house and hired people with some brains to run these publicly held corporations.

And the United States Government sure didn’t lead the way towards 100 miles-per-gallon cars. It is within their power to mandate such goals but they consistently did not because so many legislators are in the pocket of Big Oil. Maybe the oil companies should bail out Detroit. They were the main reason why low mileage got such low priority. As always, corporations put profits ahead of country, but by letting Detroit collapse, the national security of this nation is further eroded. It’s not Al Qaeda who dismantled our manufacturing capacity, it was fat guys with private jets full of insatiable greed. 

The United States Government also contributed to the inability of American industry to compete with Japan and Europe by refusing to provide the basic right of health care to our citizens like every other advanced industrialized nation, thus forcing corporations to factor in the exorbitant cost of health care in their product costs. And in today’s super high tech world, any potential war will involve extensive use of electronic and computer technology, and we are a nation that doesn’t even make our own television sets anymore, never mind the highly advanced microchip devices essential to modern weaponry. Most of those things are made elsewhere too, just like this iMac computer made in Shanghai.

So what do we do about GM, Ford and Chrysler? Bail them out like the banks with no strings attached and watch them go crazy again? Hardly. Bail them out with steel cables attached, mandating that they immediately reverse their policy of building the same old, same old vehicles. A nation that put a guy on the moon forty years ago just for the hell of it can surely come up with a high-efficiency engine when the pressure’s on to do so. The question before was always “Why should they?” and it was a legitimate question. The answer now has to be “Because they absolutely must.” This nation allows no aspirin bottle to be sold without a child-proof cap, no step-ladder to be sold without a dozen warning stickers and requires all sorts of things of car manufacturers from seat belts to catalytic converters.

So now the law must state that cars absolutely must attain high energy efficiency if they take Uncle Sam’s money, or even if they don’t and still somehow survive. And the same laws should apply to imports as well, extreme high efficiency or go sell them elsewhere, and that applies to the many Japanese auto plants operating on U.S. soil. If they don’t measure up to standards, they don’t go on sale here, period. And while Uncle Sam is handing over $25 billion apiece to the Big Three, they should demand the resignations of the people in charge of these companies. 

If they let these clueless boobs remain, then, bail out or no bail out, our auto industry will disappear like our railroads did. We can get by with a few less banks and credit card companies since the money will be handled by someone, no problem, but rebuilding an automotive industry on the fly during a national emergency like the one we faced in 1941 isn’t something we should let happen, even if these companies were almost ruined by greedy assholes. A nation full of information processors and burger flippers but devoid of blue collar producers with calloused hands is a big fat target. Give them the dough, but ride them like rented mules until they deliver the goods.

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