In “Goodbye, GM … by Michael Moore,” a letter published on June 1, the documentary film producer gives his insights on the collapse of GM and charts a future course for the automaker.
Before we visit this twilight zone, let’s be clear about why this filmmaker’s opinion matters, especially on this topic. Michael Moore is someone who “gets it,” according to the left. When his movies take on an issue — like gun violence, health care, or the U.S. response to 9/11 — it’s a cultural event for progressives from San Francisco to Vancouver. He writes the narrative.
He started his career in 1989 with Roger and Me. This film followed Moore’s quest to interview Roger Smith, the CEO of GM, to ask why the company was cutting jobs in Flint and building new plants in Mexico. Moore’s background as the son of a GM autoworker made the film even more credible for Democrats convinced of the darkness of free trade and globalization.
With this history, Moore should know something about GM and the domestic auto industry, right? But he begins his letter by laying the blame for GM’s failure squarely on management, for not building and selling the types of cars the American public wanted. That’s superficially correct, but hardly insightful. It’s like saying Obama won the election because he got more votes.
There’s a topic missing from his letter that Moore doesn’t get, or just would rather not address. That topic is the union, of course. Like the Democrats in Washington, Moore discusses GM’s past, present, and future without uttering the word.
GM failed because in the 80s and 90s the company’s unionized workers realized that the real money wasn’t in making automobiles, but in writing a better collective bargaining agreement. While Toyota’s workers were organizing quality circles, UAW workers were organizing work stoppages and press conferences. The consequences were predictable; the only surprise is that it took so long.
One of the best books on the auto industry competition is Womack’s The Machine That Changed The World. This management bestseller tells the story of how Toyota’s workers were able to build better autos not because of any single technological advance, but through a series of hundreds of small improvements over time. I believe we used to call that American ingenuity.
Yet in Moore’s world, the union workers could never be the villains. They are victims protecting themselves against exploitative management. They have no responsibilities to the company or its customers, just entitlements that grow larger and larger every year.
And Moore certainly doesn’t make the connection between GM’s bankruptcy and the proposed card check legislation that has the potential to unionize virtually every American workforce, an act of national economic seppuku that guarantees more bankruptcies, bailouts, and jobs moving overseas.
Like President Obama, Moore says that he has no interest in running a car company. His solution is to transform it into a nationalized transportation company — which he seems to be interested in managing — as evidenced by his nine-point plan. The new and improved company would build local and long-distance public transport using electric trains powered by renewable energy.
In this progressive fantasy, we all travel in style on GM-manufactured Japanese bullet trains that zip across the country at 165 mph. A trip from NYC to Miami would take a mere eleven hours. Sure, that’s eight more hours than a plane ride, but why save time when we can save the planet?
The bullet trains are the easiest part. In Moore’s utopia, travel within metropolitan areas would take place not in cars, but by light rail. I hope that he’s done the math on the thousands of stations he would need to cover a metropolitan area and the earth that would have to be moved to lay a hundred thousand miles of tracks. For those of us living in less dense areas, we’d need plenty of bus stops.
Evidently Moore seems to believe that GM, the company he despises, has been hiding some pretty impressive capabilities all of these years and is in fact an engineering and manufacturing powerhouse. For him, its not even worth putting this fantasy trillion dollar national infrastructure project up for bid — we’ll just award it to a bankrupt car company.
And it’s interesting that Moore didn’t propose his trillion dollar GM-run national transportation infrastructure plan back in January, when the incoming Obama administration was faced with the twin challenges of crafting an economic stimulus and rescuing GM once again. Why wasn’t he on television presenting his transportation plan in a series of interviews, like T. Boone Pickens? With his progressive credentials he would certainly get the administration’s attention. Now it’s too late — the stimulus money is spent.
But no, Moore has the cost covered. He proposes a $2 tax on a gallon of gasoline. This way, every American family can contribute $1,000 to $2,000 a year to the effort of subsidizing this country’s new public transportation sector and its union. If that means giving up day trips to the beach, away soccer games, and weekend visits to grandma’s, America’s children are ready to make the sacrifice.
Could all of this be just another liberal plan to kill the car? Draw your own conclusions:
The things we call “cars” may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet.
For a “real” progressive, not even hybrid cars are good enough. It’s public transportation or nothing. Anything less will kill us all.
Of course, Michael Moore’s proposal is idiocy, a fantastic and frightening walk through a fairyland of totalitarian statism. A captive, taxpayer-funded, and government-managed labor force designs and builds products to suit an ideology, and then prevents any other alternatives from reaching the consumer, at least in any economical form.
And, like many progressive policies, the burden of funding social change falls on those who can least afford it. Millionaire documentary directors aren’t going to notice when gas prices double, but the people who serve his lunch, do his laundry, or wash his hybrid car sure will. It’s a recipe for economic misery in which others sacrifice in order to transform this country into his version of the American dream.
Still, this is just fantasy, right? This could never happen in America. Surely the voters would never approve of this lunacy. Would they?
They did. In January, the economic stimulus was approved with an earmark for high-speed rail and plenty of money for public transportation funding. And fuel efficiency standards signed into law by Obama will further limit the types of cars consumers can purchase.
Higher gas taxes would be a tough sell, but if repackaged as environmental taxes and fees targeted at “profiteering” oil and gas companies, the politics change completely. Of course, the effect is the same.
And as for the grand plans for GM’s labor force and manufacturing capacity, it seems to fit in nicely with Robert Reich’s agenda of creating millions of “green jobs” in order to solve both global warming and unemployment. If painting a roof or a road white is a green job, then why not building a bus stop?
This may be why Michael Moore is “filled with joy,” as he writes, by GM’s bankruptcy. Now that GM’s employees and factories have finally been freed from the yoke of management and the markets, they are ready to serve a higher purpose — transforming the country to fit the progressive agenda.
I guess you won, Michael. Congratulations, and enjoy your new toy.