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« Reason

A tale of two bailouts

By Tyler S. Clark (Contact)


Published March 23, 2009

It was the blue-collar workers, it was the white-collar workers. One class was only grudgingly granted a lifeline, the other was a shoo-in.

Google [Detroit bailout] and you'll find headlines like

  • "The Detroit Bailout: Unsafe at Any Cost"
  • "Big Three Bailout? Not So Fast"
  • "No Detroit Bailout"
 
To this is attached all kinds of advice about what must be attached to any bailout of the Big Three, such as environmental overhauls and worker wage concessions. That's from those who were willing to concede a bailout could be tolerated; others advised bankruptcy.
 
The headlines screamed the discrepancy in hourly labor costs between GM and Toyota of around $21. What was talked about less was how the numbers break down. The true difference in hourly wage between those workers is closer to $4. The remaining amount is the difference between a hundred-year-old company supporting its pensioners and an upstart, founded in 1986, without those responsibilities.
 
Whatever your thoughts on the automakers' bailout, the difference between the government's attention to its details and those of the spending on AIG couldn't be more different. The discussion of the AIG infusions before they happened were whispers, in comparison.
 
In our post-industrial world, once again, blue-collar workers are unworthy of help and suspected of not working hard enough, but white-collar workers are essential to the new economy and above reproach. Only once outlandish retention bonuses were paid was there an outcry of unfairness. But the ensuing discussion still does not get to the root of our modern prejudice against the working class.
 
Nobel Prize-winner and Columbia economics professor Joseph Stiglitz gets the last wordhere:
"There is a basic principle in environmental economics called "the polluter pays": polluters must pay for the cost of cleaning up their pollution. American banks have polluted the global economy with toxic waste; it is a matter of equity and efficiency that they must be forced, now or later, to pay the price of cleaning it up. As long as the banking sector feels that it will be bailed out of disasters--even ones it created--we will continue to have a moral hazard. Only by making sure that the sector pays the costs of its actions will efficiency be restored." 

 


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