Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On the Auto Industry Mess and Hate Crimes

For my conservative friends who have been mad at me lately -- here's two issues that we probably agree on.

The Ailing Small Two

Back in the day when GM, Ford and Chrysler used to be three of the five largest corporations in the world, we used to call them "The Big 3". These companies pioneered the American middle class with high paying jobs for high-school educated workers. They also radically transformed transportation in this country, spawning increased interconnectedness and the invention of suburbs.

The name "Big 3" obviously no longer fits. Chrysler is in bankruptcy and GM is on the brink. Toyota is global leader in auto sales. Honda has top selling models in the U.S. BMW and Mercedes own the high end. Only Ford remains as a serious force in the increasingly global auto industry.

So what will become of these aging former giants?

Chrysler is trying to quickly run through Chapter 11 and sell off its assets to Fiat (who knew they were such a big player!) with minority ownership from the federal government and the UAW.

GM is looking to restructure with majority ownership by the UAW and minority ownership by the federal government.

As bad as things have been for these companies -- and they have been BAD -- no innovation, poor quality and declining sales -- can you imagine a scenario when UAW and government ownership would make things better?

This whole deal seems like a major mess. It appears likely that these two companies will stumble along coming out of bankruptcy and continue to spit out second-rate cars as their market share is absorbed by the global big 3 (Ford, Volkswagen and Toyota) as well as established niche players and up-and-comers from Korean and China. In the meantime, it will cost all us taxpayers a ton.

As I said from the start, we should have just stayed out of this mess. This is one case where letting capitalism kill these dying companies would probably have been the best long-term option, if not the most politically acceptable one.

Hate Crimes
Recent legislation to extend hate crimes laws to cover crimes committed against homosexuals has rekindled the age old debate on whether we should have hate crimes laws at all.

I've always been personally deeply divided on this issue. The skin-depth level of debate in congress wasn't particularly helpful (my favorite paraphrases: anyone who opposes this hates gays (from the left), this wouldn't be an issue if gays would just stop telling us they are gay (from the right))

On the one hand, the conservative argument that crimes should be punished based on the crime and not based on what is in someone's heart or mind has some validity. Murder is murder, whether the motivation is race or anything else.

On the other hand, motives are considered all the time in sentencing of crimes. Judges weigh someone's history, their relative remorse, etc., when making those decisions.

On balance, I come down closer to the conservative point of view -- punish all crimes based on the crime, regardless of intent. But extend it fully -- don't limit that thinking to just hate-based crimes.

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