If We Get an Auto Czar, Do We Get an Auto Stolypin, Too?

By November 14, 2008Economy

Oh, the possibilities are endless. Auto Decembrists, Auto Kerenskys, Auto Ivan the Terribles.

Who originated this benumbing usage, anyway, economic czars? Wasn’t it President Carter who named Cyrus Vance the energy czar? How’d that turn out, anyway?

Anyway, that’s a thought about terminology, not policy. Headline writers love “czar” because it’s a short term, much shorter than, say, Commissar or Minister Plenipotentiary to the Private Sector.

Now, for the policy round-up today, we’ll just use the Washington Post: 

Obama Ties Automaker Rescue to Regulation“:

Top advisers to President-elect Barack Obama are helping to draft an auto industry rescue plan that would bring new government oversight, including the possibility of an auto czar who could ensure the money was being used wisely.

Aides said Obama is also open to an oversight board that would perform the same function as one individual. The proposals come as the estimates of the cost to fix Detroit’s three largest automakers continue to mount.

Bush Warns of Aggressive Economic Regulation“:

NEW YORK, Nov. 13 — After presiding over some of the most dramatic market interventions in U.S. history over the past two months, President Bush came to Wall Street on Thursday to urge world leaders not to venture too far down a path of government interference in capitalist economies.

Speaking to a conservative audience at historic Federal Hall, Bush sharply criticized proposals for aggressive regulation and control over financial markets while simultaneously defending his administration’s broad efforts to support the credit and housing sectors over the past two months.

You can almost hear reporter Dan Eggen’s snort of derision at this messenger of this message, and indeed, while the arguments are strong, it’s closing the barn door after the troika is halfway into the taiga.

More commentary, this time explicit and from the opinion section: 

The Post’s lead editorial is especially worth paying attention to as it seems to represent the consensus point of view of the Washington commentariat, right, left and center — although the IMF conceit is new.

THE IMPENDING collapse of General Motors presents Congress and the president with a choice between two domino effects, both potentially damaging to the U.S. economy. If the federal government does not lend GM money and the company goes bankrupt, the repercussions will spread throughout the country by way of the network of suppliers, dealers and local businesses that depend on GM and the other car manufacturers for their livelihoods. This could destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs when the economy can ill afford another shock. But if the federal government, frightened by these possibilities, gives GM just what it wants, it will be setting a precedent for even more multibillion-dollar bailouts — of automakers and of other troubled companies. The closure of DHL’s operation in Wilmington, Ohio, is costing 9,000 people their jobs; Circuit City’s bankruptcy means about 7,800 layoffs. If Detroit and its relatively well-compensated workforce qualify for federal aid, why not these firms and workers, too?

Strict conditionality could ease this dilemma. When the International Monetary Fund lent money to cash-strapped countries, it demanded that they overhaul their tax and spending policies to ensure that the IMF would be repaid and that the countries wouldn’t continue bad habits. The consequences could be painful for those countries’ citizens, but the alternative — national destitution — was worse, so countries generally accepted. Furthermore, the example deterred others from mismanaging their affairs in the first place.

Congress should act like the IMF toward GM and the others.

Hey, that’s a short word! Yes, it’s three syllables but you can use it in headlines: Auto IMF

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