04 December 2008

Detroit: The Bailout From Below

Under pressure from the U.S. auto industry and the realities of hard time, the United Auto Workers are likely to make concessions or "givebacks" to employers. These are expected to include accepting delays in industry payments into pension funds and a union "job bank" that paid compensation to laid-off members. Employers always acknowledge their dependence upon their employees when their survival appears to depend on employees tightening their belts. If they can't threaten the government with the failure of a major manufacturing sector, they certainly can threaten the workers with the loss of their jobs.

Objectively speaking, there probably are more savings to be had this way than through the surrenders of executive salaries suggested by some people. But it still looks like everyone has to pay the price for failure except the very people whose decisions led to failure. Everything seems to be arranged so that a certain clique of fat cats must retain their positions, or else the entire edifice must come crashing down. Arguments are made for bailouts on the ground of national necessity, but the people responsible for the crisis seem immune from accountability to the nation as a whole. But if the national interest requires bailouts, the nation seems entitled to regard the auto industry as a public trust, and those private individuals entrusted with it ought to be held more accountable and subject to more regulation than they might like.

Some people will say, or may have already said, that the unions are now learning a lesson they should have absorbed long ago. It will be said that they came unjustly to view their salaries and health plans and other perks as entitlements, and that they unwisely came to consider themselves entitled to perpetually improved conditions. But for decades and generations no one really discouraged them from thinking this way. A decline was inevitable once other countries became more competitive, but there's a tendency in some circles to suggest that the decline is somehow the workers' own fault because they became less competitive, more spoiled. Some people probably think that it's the workers' fault that American cars are, or are perceived to be, shoddy products, and that the burden of making Detroit more competitive rests on their shoulders. That may even be true, but with more responsibility should come more power if everything depends on them.

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Here's a thought about entitlement. It's an attitude usually attributed by conservatives to liberals. The way conservatives see it, liberals have an entitlement mentality when they presume that they have a "right" to something, whether they're capable of earning it or not. From that point of view, entitlement is akin to asking for something for nothing. But there's more to entitlement than that, and it's a mistake to define entitlement so narrowly that only liberals seem to be guilty of it. The way I see it, any claim of a "right" is a claim to entitlement. It's just as much an entitlement mentality when someone says that "this is mine by right" as when they say "I have a right to this." In both cases, the entitlement mentality is an appeal against the state of nature and the rule of force. When a conservative says that something is his "by right," (whether he "earned" it or not) he's saying that no one has the right to take it from him, even though it can be taken by brute strength or strength of numbers. If he can't protect what he "earns," yet says it's his "by right," that's an entitlement mentality at work. Civilization itself, to the extent that it overrules the law of nature (which is might makes right) is nothing but a sense of entitlement. Conservatives should consider that before they go on blithely dismissing everyone else's supposed sense of entitlement. Theirs, arguably, is as great a sense of entitlement as anyone else's, and not necessarily any more justified.

1 comment:

Mberenis said...

I'd like to Post a Comment The recession really isn't that bad if you know where to look. The bailout money is spilling over to us believe it or not. I've done research and found that there is more money than what you think...

Bailout Spillover