The winds of global financial meltdown blow as bitterly as a December cold front. And, as with the weather, most of us bundle up and mumble to each other, “Well, what can you do?”
I feel tiny and insignificant as I see new developments with the federal government’s bailout of failing corporations. After hearing government officials comment daily about committing billions of dollars to this company and that industry, I’m numb.
The amount of money being thrown around is impossible to comprehend, as is the fact that it’s my money and your money and — most importantly — our unborn grandchildren’s money. Yet we have no say in how it’s being spent.
We hear from serious men in dark suits that even though the mortgage crash was caused by unscrupulous bankers and overzealous investment houses, even though Fannie Mae and insurance companies weren’t properly regulated and even though the Big Three automakers brought ruin on themselves by not innovating quickly or smartly, the government has to bail them out. All of them are “too big to fail.”
Then we hear horrible stories about families losing their homes due to crazy upside-down mortgage loans, and the suits proclaim, “Well, they should have known what they were doing. It’s their own fault. If we help them, we’re only enabling bad behavior.”
And thus the average American gets nothing from the bailouts except vague explanations that the funds injected into banks will “trickle down” to us in the form of new loan capacity. So the good news for you and me is that, buried under debt, we’ll soon be able to borrow again. Hooray for us!
Meanwhile, after offering almost $1 trillion to the financial sector — all of it given away with no strings attached, no government oversight and no agreements on cutting executive pay and bonuses — the Bush administration decided to get tough with the car companies. Specifically with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which was asked for wage concessions in a bailout deal.
GM, Ford and Chrysler CEOs — the guys who flew in on private jets to beg Congress for a bailout — weren’t asked to give back chunks of their salaries or benefits. No executive of any corporation being bailed out has been asked to sacrifice for the good of the country. Just the assembly line workers.
In a Dec. 17 Washington Post column, Harold Meyerson explained that the UAW told the auto industry in 1949 to focus on building smaller fuel-efficient cars and pushed in the ’70s for national health care to curb mounting retiree obligations. He recounted how the UAW helped fund almost every significant liberal movement in the U.S., from better working conditions to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington to the National Organization of Women to Earth Day.
His conclusion: “The UAW not only built the American middle class but helped engender every movement at the center of American liberalism today — which is one reason that conservatives have always held the union in particular disdain.”
Risking economic collapse to punish a political foe? Even for Republicans, that’s cold.
CONTACT JOHN FOX: [email protected]