All through congressional hearings around the auto loan last month, not one public official or news reporter ever asked General Motors and Ford CEOs the most important question of all:
“So how come you guys are so dumb here but so smart in Europe?”
It’s got to make somebody wonder why Detroit carmakers have managed to lose money and market share here to the same Japanese carmakers whose butts they are kicking in Europe. Over there, Ford and GM’s respective market shares are almost double Toyota’s and more than five times Nissan’s and Honda’s.
There’s no denying: Detroit automakers do much better when there is the greatest amount of government regulation, and worse when they are basically left on their own.
Here’s how big government in Europe made Ford and GM smarter and richer:
1. National health care
For conservatives, you can’t get any more “big government” than national health care. But if Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and the other Southern shills for foreign carmakers truly wanted to restructure Detroit Three auto costs, they should have started by endorsing Rep. John Conyers’ Medicare for All single-payer health insurance bill, HR 676. Health insurance is the biggest cost differential between GM and Toyota, not wages. The Detroit Three keep whining that they don’t have a level playing field at home because they have to pay for the health care of 1.5 million retired UAW members while Toyota USA only has about 300 retirees to worry about. Obviously, universal health care, where everybody chips in his or her fair share for the common good, levels the playing field.
2. Fuel efficiency
Whenever Congress pushed for higher fuel efficiency standards, the Detroit Three cried how unfair it was because 75 percent of their product mix consisted of big cars, big SUVs and big pickup trucks. Yet, somehow they’ve managed to beat the Japanese Three in European markets, which have much higher fuel standards. It’s another case where government regulation made GM and Ford smarter by making them build smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles that sell.
3. Bargaining for non-union members
The United Auto Workers’ bargaining strength has diminished with the decline of union membership and the growth of non-union foreign producers here. In Germany, the IG Metall union, the country’s counterpart to the UAW and United Steelworkers, is required by law to bargain for all workers in the metal industries whether they belong to IG Metall or not. Over here, we would dismiss that as non-union freeloading. Over there, it works just fine because even though only 35 percent of all metal workers choose to join IG Metall, 100 percent of them have a direct stake in how well the union does at the bargaining table. Funny, you don’t hear about non-union workers joining with anti-union politicians to call for union concessions over there.
In the late 1940s, the UAW dared to suggest to the Detroit auto companies that they build a four-cylinder car, which 40 percent of Americans said they wanted for driving to work. The UAW was told in no uncertain terms to butt out and never tell management again how to run things. Well, imagine a capitalist nation where workers have veto power over corporate investment decisions. But that’s exactly how it works under the German co-determination policy. Back in the 1970s, Volkswagen was considering a plant in Pennsylvania to meet U.S. consumer demand. IG Metall had the legal authority to veto the proposal if it didn’t come with a guarantee there would be no layoffs in Germany as a result of VW’s move to America. Oh, the horrors of European socialism!
With a new administration in Washington, Americans have the opportunity to turn the page on 30 years of anti-government government, starting with Jimmy Carter (“Americans have to expect less from Washington.”), moving on to Ronald Reagan (“Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”), to Bill Clinton (“The era of big government is over.”) and finally George W. Bush (“You’re doing a heckuva job there, Brownie.”).
Americans aren’t asking for BIG government. We just want a government that is effective and on our side once in a while. We now have a president who prioritizes Main Street over Wall Street. What we need is a mass, grassroots religious-like conversion back to believing in government again.
All together now: “Government is the tool we can use to build the kind of society we want.”
Sam Stark is a UAW retiree in Michigan.