WASHINGTON -- "I," said the president, who is inordinately fond of the first-person singular pronoun, "want to disabuse people of this notion that somehow we enjoy meddling in the private sector." He said that in March, when the government already owned 80 percent of AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "When a difficult decision has to be made on matters like where to open a new plant or what type of new car to make, the new GM, not the United States government, will make that decision." But the government is GM's largest shareholder, customer, tax collector, regulator, partner in determining employees' compensation, protector of dealers and pension guarantor. GM's other large owner, the United Auto Workers, is increasingly a government dependant.
Yet Steve Rattner and Ron Bloom, two of the president's fixers of Detroit, recently wrote in USA Today that government "will play no role" in running GM. They were not under oath.
"What we are not doing -- what I have no interest in doing -- is running GM," says the president who, when not firing GM's CEO, purging its board of directors and picking new members, is designing new products (imposing fuel economy requirements that will control size, weight, passenger capacity and safety). The president, overcoming his professed reluctance to run GM, resembles the journalist Don Marquis when, after a month on the wagon, he ordered a double martini and exclaimed: "I've conquered my goddam willpower."
Washington mandates that Detroit must build cars for which there is much less demand than Washington demands that there be. Then Washington tries to manufacture demand with a $7,500 tax credit for purchasers of the electric Chevrolet Volt, supposedly GM's salvation. So, GM is to be saved by a product people will not buy without a cash incentive larger than the income tax paid by 83.4 percent of America's families.
It is reasonable to assume that GM will become profitable -- if you make unreasonable assumptions about annual vehicle sales and GM's share of the market. Besides, the government that runs Amtrak (which has lost $23 billion, in today's dollars, just since 1990) vows to make GM efficient.