George Will

     A glutton for punishment, Ford is vice chairman of another struggling entertainment entity, the Detroit Lions, who have had just three winning seasons in the last decade. Gesturing out the window of his 12th-floor office, toward the Lions' practice facility just a mile away, he notes that when the team reduced the seating at the Ford Field in downtown Detroit from 80,000 to 65,000, sales of season tickets shot up: ``Scarcity is not a bad thing.''

     But not as good as surplus in the form of profits. Worldwide, Ford is still predominantly a car company -- and is gaining market share. But outside America, the company is not functioning as a welfare state, paying the high costs of medical and pension benefits for current and retired employees.

     Detroit, which in 1955 was the nation's fifth largest city, recently fell, for the first time in a century, out of the list of the 10 largest, replaced by San Jose. Detroit is America's saddest city: cattle could be grazed in vast swaths of depopulated neighborhoods. Suffering from a vanishing middle class, and vanished fathers of the 70 percent of children born out of wedlock, the city's decline may be irreversible.

     Reversing the decline of ``Detroit'' -- shorthand for the once-muscular domestic auto industry -- requires two things. One is the trimming of some benefits the United Auto Workers won when the Big Three -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- were the world's three largest automobile companies. As recently as 25 years ago they had a 76 percent share of the American market and the ability to pass along to consumers the costs of the settlements made with the UAW. Last year Toyota earned $10.9 billion, more than the Big Three combined, and Detroit's market share was an all-time low, at 58.7 percent.

     The other ingredient of revival must be better products. Meaning, among other things, cars that better express the emotional rather than just the utilitarian -- the ``arts and entertainment'' as well as the transportation -- aspect of cars. Meaning products like the chairman's green Mustang in the garage downstairs.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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